Local Biomass Power
The term biomass refers to materials of biological origin, such as forest and agricultural waste, that can be used as fuel for generating electric power. Local biomass power makes up approximately one-fourth of Redwood Coast Energy Authority’s current electricity portfolio. We have contracts with Humboldt Sawmill Company in Scotia and DG Fairhaven Power on the Samoa peninsula, which use waste material from local sawmills to power their plants.
RCEA includes biomass as a portion of our current power mix for a number of reasons:
- Biomass power is currently the only utility-scale (i.e. multi-megawatt) source of renewable electricity in the county and serves as a starting point toward our goal of 100% local renewable power. Our biomass contracts to date are relatively short term (1 to 5 years) and allow us to keep our options open for the future as we seek to diversify our local renewables portfolio.
- Biomass power plants primarily use mill waste that would otherwise need to be disposed of by an alternative means. In the absence of the local biomass plants, our sources in the forest products industry tell us they would resort to trucking the material to more distant power plants, thus increasing total emissions. Other alternatives for local use of the wood waste may be feasible, such as composting or production of durable goods. However, to our knowledge no one is currently positioned to implement these solutions locally at the needed scale. The local mill waste stream is abundant enough that the local plants are able to fulfill their RCEA power contracts without harvesting trees specifically for feedstock.
- Biomass power plants provide high-skill blue collar jobs that strengthen the local economy.
- Humboldt County is the number one forest products producer among California’s 58 counties. Bioregionally, it makes sense to use local mill waste here, just as it makes sense to use local geothermal power in Sonoma and Lake Counties, wind in the Tehachapi and Altamont wind areas, and solar power in the deserts of southeastern California.
At the time we launched our program, we paid a premium price for local renewable power, in consideration of the plants’ relatively high operating costs and the community benefits discussed above. However, we have since renegotiated these contracts to bring them more in line with prices paid in this region for other forms of renewable power.
Some community members have expressed concern about the emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and air pollutants from the biomass plants. RCEA’s biomass contracts call for strict compliance with federal, state, and local environmental regulations, including air emissions. The state’s GHG emissions rules for power plants count only the “non-biogenic” emissions from fossil fuels such as natural gas that are used at these plants to start up equipment. These fuels make up a relatively small part of the plants’ total fuel use. Emissions from the biomass itself are accounted for by the state separately in the forestry sector, per internationally accepted GHG accounting standards.
Links for Additional Information
- U.S. Department of Energy – Bioenergy
- U.S. Energy Information Administration – Biomass
- California Energy Commission Resources:
- California Energy Commission – Biomass
- An Assessment of Biomass Resources in California 2007, 2010 and 2020.(see page 69 of the report for the estimated available forest slash and mill residue for Humboldt County)
- California Air Resources Board (CARB) links:
- Biomass stories in the local media:
- Resources from Humboldt State University
- RePower Humboldt – Strategic Plan for Renewable Energy Security and Prosperity (2013)
- Waste to Wisdom Project
- Schatz Energy Research Center Bioenergy webpage
- Analysis of Supply Chain for Biomass Emissions (Thesis by Angela Lottes)
- Forest Management and Climate Change (Michael Furniss, Watershed 458 & 558)
- Cal Fire Biomass and Bioenergy webpage