$4.9 million grant awarded for North Fork biomass plant

After being conditionally approved in January, the North Fork Community Power’s forest bioenergy project was officially awarded a $4.9 million grant last month. The award will be used to construct one of the first forest-sourced biomass gasification plants, as well as research the emerging field of forest biomass utilization. The plant will utilize local forest biomass sustainably sourced from restoration and fuel reduction activities on local forest lands, including the Sierra National Forest. The biomass will be used to make electricity, heat and biochar - a solid carbon byproduct that is used as a soil conditioner and filter media. The project will also be one of the first projects to use forest-based fuel under California’s new SB 1122 bioenergy law.

“One of the biggest challenges we face in the Sierra Nevada is the lack of wood and biomass processing infrastructure,” said Jim Branham, executive officer for the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, one of the project partners. “Projects like the North Fork Community Project are key to increasing the pace and scale of forest restoration and protecting our forests and communities from large, damaging wildfires.”

The conservancy provided funding for the North Fork Community Power pre-project planning work through the Proposition 84 grant program. The grant was originally applied for in November 2014 by a diverse project team, led by The Watershed Research and Training Center, a community driven non-profit based in Hayfork, Calif., with a long history of promoting economic development and community engagement.

“We are delighted to be able to combine environmental stewardship together with job creation and sustainable energy production for our community,” said Dan Rosenberg, North Fork CDC president. “We are hoping that our plant will serve as a model for other forested communities while having a positive environmental impact and improving the fire safety of our community.”

Madera County District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler, and life-long resident of North Fork, said the word of the finale grant award is exciting.

“This project can now move forward and we hope to see it up and running by next year,” Wheeler said. “This plant will be a model for all the Sierra Nevada region.”

The facility will primarily use sustainably harvested forest biomass that is frequently piled and burned for disposal. Additional fuel will come from local fire safe councils and the community. The facility will sell power to PG&E under California’s landmark SB1122 bioenergy law.

- Sierra Resource Conservation District