The Sierra Institute for Community and Environment has this week been announced as the winner of the Barrett Foundation Business Concept Challenge.
The $100,000 award is in recognition of the group’s proposal to develop a 3 MW biomass combined heat and power plant at Plumas County in California. It was presented in Washington DC on Wednesday.
The National Forest Foundation (NFF) runs the Barrett Foundation Business Concept Challenge as a means of encouraging the best entrepreneurial approaches that help to solve one or more of the challenges facing America’s 193-million-acre National Forest System.
This year's winner combines energy production, sustainable forestry and community development in its innovative proposal.
Plumas County, which has lost thousands of timber-related jobs since the 1990s, is set to benefit immensely from such a plant but the small non-profit would have had difficulty generating enough capital to finance a biomass plant of this type.
However the team created a coalition of project sponsors and proposed a small-scale biomass plant co-located with other wood products industries like the first cross-laminated-timber (CLT) mill in California, a firewood production facility, a wood chip processing facility for use by local biomass boilers in the county, and even a greenhouse heated by the biomass energy plant. The CHP plant would sell renewable energy to California’s uniquely regulated energy market and would sell heat created by the biomass facility to the other business co-ocated on the campus.
All the businesses would utilize locally and sustainably harvested wood from nearby National Forests, adding further value by reducing the forests’ risk of uncharacteristic wildfire and improving forest health. This model makes it economically viable for a non-profit to build such a small energy plant in a rural community.