The Mariposa Biomass Project

The October 8th Meeting of the Mariposa Democratic Club will feature an update on the biomass project.  The meeting starts at 9:45 a.m. at Miner’s Roadhouse; or at 9:00 am if you want to purchase breakfast first. A web-based version of the presentation is available here.

August 2 Board of Supervisors Meeting: Our biomass project suffered a major setback on August 2nd when the Mariposa County Board of Supervisors declined to instruct staff to start the process of offering the 7.6-acres the project wishes to have an option to acquire via either sale or lease.  The decision came down to whether the 7.6 county-owned acres could be declared “surplus” and therefore put up for sale via a public offering process. Details Here.

August 2nd Board of Supervisors Meeting The continuing discussion of the possible purchase (or lease) of 7.6 acres by our biomass project is on the agenda the August 2nd Board of Supervisors meeting. It is the second regular agenda item in the morning session. Please show up and express your support for our project.

Minutes are now available from our July 27th Meeting.

Biomass at Yosemite-Mariposa Integrated Regional Water Management Meeting
On July 14th, Steve and Jay talked about our project and our proposed land purchace/lease from the County. Click here to view that talk.

Meeting on July 13, 9:30 AM in the Offline Solar meeting room behind Pony Espresso. We will be discussing our strategy for the upcoming Mariposa County Board of Supervisors meeting on July 19th where our proposal for land acquisition will be discussed.

Mariposa Biomass Project Land Acquisition Facts
The Mariposa Biomass Project (MBP) is working to establish a biomass plant on land adjacent to the County Solids Waste Facility or landfill.  The goals are to derive economic value from excess vegetation in the County, especially in light of our current Tree Mortality Disaster, create jobs and to diversify our economy. 
On July 19th the MBP will request that the County agree to provide the MBP with an option to buy (via a public offering) 7.6 acres from the County.  The land in question was recently acquired by the County to comply with a State requirement for test wells. That land is not part of the landfill operations or the landfill permit, and the MBP will specify that our facility will not interfere with the landfill operations or test wells. Below are some facts that we think are important in understanding the proposed land acquisition.

  1. The project makes financial sense and our pro-forma profit and loss statement suggests that we should pay back our private investors in 5 to 7 years.
  2. There are no County funds involved and no risk to the County.  With the authorization to purchase land, the County is not committing to or authorizing a biomass plant.  Any such plant will have to comply with all Federal, State and County regulations including County permits and CEQA review before it can be built.  All permitting fees and County Staff time will be paid by MBP using the Wood Innovation Grant that we recently received from the U.S. Forest Service after a national competition.  That grant also helps supports the staff at our local Resource Conservation District office which serves as our grant administrator.
  3. More than $3 million in electrical revenue will allow MBP to pay a good price for dead trees and other vegetation removed from private properties and public infrastructure. The sizing of our plant however, is based on long-term sustainable operation, and is not dependent on the dead trees from our current tree mortality disaster. Prior State legislation, S.B. 1122, and the emphasis on use of forest biomass from high hazard zones in the Governor’s Tree Mortality Disaster Proclamation will provide favorable electricity rates over the next 20 years.
  4. The MBP will offer to buy (via the public offering) 7.6 acres near the landfill from the County at a price higher than the County paid for it in 2014. 
  5. The MBP facility will not disturb landfill or test well operations and can actually work symbiotically with landfill operations.  The 7.6 acres is currently unused and there is no anticipated use for it, other than for the test wells.
  6. MBP has proposed other financial incentives roughly $100,000 a year to the County that can help with the cost of ongoing landfill operations.
  7. This project will provide jobs for people to operate the facility, clear brush, cut down trees, and haul the resultant biomass to the facility.
  8. The project will allow tree and brush services to operate all year long, even when burning is banned, by providing a place to take the biomass.
  9. Our plant will use a new technology that meets clean air standards and eliminates much of the air pollution associated with open pile burning.
  10. The facility will provide the potential for future growth of the adjacent industrial park by providing low cost thermal energy.
  11. Biomass-based electricity is one of the only sources of renewable baseload electricity (geothermal is the other), electricity that is available 24/7/365 unlike wind and solar that are intermittent. Baseload electricity sources are needed when the sun does not shine and the wind does not blow, and to make up the differences between demand and intermittent sources.  Current baseload sources in California are largely nuclear and natural gas-based power plants.  California is moving to achieve at least 50% renewable energy by 2030 and since they are shutting down the last nuclear plant and natural gas is not renewable, biomass-based electricity will be increasingly important in the years to come to at least partially replace those baseload sources. The strategy should be to place biomass plants where there is a readily available local fuel source that has no other use, and where the biomass does not need to be shipped long distances. That is exactly what we are trying to do.

 

Minutes are now available from our June 22 Meeting. Agenda included:

1. Site Control: Review latest proposed path forward to secure the 7 acre site adjacent to the landfill and the need to sub divide this property.

2. Wood Innovations Grant: Now that we received the Wood Innovations Grant we need to discuss the next steps with regard to permitting this facility.

3. EPIC Grant: Provide an update on the grant we need to secure the funding necessary for financing the project.

4. PG&E Interconnect Cost: Changes being proposed by the state legislature

5. Possible discussion with Tom Hobby who is with Highbury Energy, a Canadian based biomass gasification system provider.

 

Mariposa Biomass Project
Awarded
USDA Forest Service
2016 USFS Wood Innovations Grant

(Mariposa, Calif.) – The Mariposa Biomass Project (MBP), a 501(c)3 corporation, has been awarded a USDA U.S. Forest Service 2016 Wood Innovations grant in the amount of $244,080 to use wood residues primarily from forests for electricity production. This will be accomplished by constructing a biomass power plant in Mariposa. The grant funds will be used to finalize site selection, secure an option to lease or purchase  the property from the County of Mariposa, negotiate an agreement with a developer, complete permitting and studies necessary for the financing and construction of the facility and complete the PG&E System Impact Study.

The biomass power plant will have a capacity of ~2 MW to take advantage of California legislation (SB 1122) now titled BioMAT (Biomass Market Adjusting Tariff) that supports renewal biomass energy.  At anticipated rates, this will provide the project with approximately $2 million to $2.5 million dollars of annual revenue, thus supporting not only local high paying jobs, but improving public safety and health.

The small community-based facility will utilize approximately 16,000 BDT of biomass per year from a 50-mile radius feedstock sourcing area, with 80% from eligible parts of the Stanislaus National Forest, Sierra National Forest, the Bureau of Land Management and other public and private forest lands according to a fuel availability study completed in August, 2015 by TSS Consultants. Forest-sourced biomass will come primarily from areas designated as high fire hazard. As a result of the current tree mortality disaster, where Mariposa County is ground zero, for the foreseeable future the feedstock will consist primarily of dead trees removed from around public infrastructure and homes. Long term, it is expected that the project will generate at least 10-20 jobs, some of which would be for facility operation and the rest from jobs required to process and transport biomass to the facility.. The project will reduce wildfire risk, increase public safety, improve forest health, and reduce the cost of forest management, while increasing the health and economic diversity of the surrounding community

The goals of the MBP are in line with the goals of the Wood Innovations Program:

The project will be managed and directed by a team of experienced professionals from the Mariposa Biomass Project. The Mariposa County Resource Conservation District will act as fiscal agent and grant administrator.  

The Wood Innovations Grant program by the U.S. Forest Service is a national competition for funds and the fact that our proposed project is receiving funding is a good indication that our program is not only valuable locally, but is recognized as having wider value to the innovative utilization of forest-based products. We are therefore deeply honored to have been selected to receive this grant. For the U.S. Forest Service press release on this grant program click here. For a list of all recipients click here.

 

Biomass Utilization, Energy, Air Pollution and Climate Change

Biomass in our forest can have many fates ranging from being burned in a wildfire to helping create clean green energy and reversing climate change.  Not all ways of using or disposing of biomass are created equal.  Methods that release the carbon in forest biomass as carbon dioxide (CO2) exacerbate climate change at a time we need to reduce carbon emissions.  Biomass left to decay in the forest releases much of the carbon as methane (CH4) a short-term greenhouse gas that is 105 times more warming than carbon dioxide while it is in the atmosphere (10.5 year half life).  Forest fires release carbon as both carbon dioxide and black carbon (soot) that also contributes considerably more short-term warming than carbon dioxide.

The table below ranks various biomass disposal techniques in terms of air pollution, i.e. particulates and NOx and carbon released to atmosphere.  In dealing with the current tree mortality problem, for the sake of public safety, we need to use every technique below, other than forest fires, or course.  Over time we should try to move to techniques lower in the chart that derive value from the biomass, and have the potential reverse climate change rather than exacerbate it.   Energy derived from dead trees replaces energy derived from fossil fuel sources, thus helping mitigate climate change. (This should be differentiated from cutting down living trees to produce biofuel, a questionable practice at best, from a climate change point of view.)  Obliviously converting the carbon in dead forest biomass to biochar that can sequester that carbon for thousands of years is the most promising approach and should be encouraged.

Great News! On October 30th, the Governor declared a State of Emergency relative to Tree Mortality in the Sierra and asked Secretary Vilsack for federal funds to help with mitigation and recovery efforts. The Governor has also issued a proclamation that orders state agencies to help in a wide variety of ways. Given the points contained in the proclamation, there is little doubt that biomass facilities will play an important role going forward. The Governor has also ordered the formation of a task force headed by the Directors of CalFIRE and the Office of Emergency Services to guide how the proclamation is implemented.  For more information click here.

Is burning biomass contributing to global warming? Should burning wood or other biomass be considered clean, green renewable energy? 

There has been a fair number of news articles lately, such as this one on Climate Central, about the wood pellet industry and the fact that we are harvesting trees in the U.S. to make wood pellets for use as fuel in power plants in Europe and Asia. In fact the majority of “renewable energy” in Europe comes from burning wood, and according to Climate Central article, the power plants burning the wood are getting tax credits aimed at mitigating climate change, and yet the article alleges that those plants making climate change worse! The article claims that wood-based energy exploits a loophole that allows wood to be considered renewable to the detriment of our planet?

So why are we considering a biomass plant in Mariposa? Should we be shutting down all the biomass plants in the Central Valley that burn agricultural waste, e.g. orchard trimming, almond shells and peach pits because burning biomass is contributing to global warming? The answers to these questions are not simple and include analysis of the fuel sources and the alternatives for disposal of various biomass waste streams, and the fact that one does not need to burn the biomass and release all the carbon to make electricity. One can use other technologies that actually help reverse climate change rather than exacerbating it. The devil is in the details. So what is the truth and how does the Mariposa Biomass Project fit into all this? Click here to find out.

Our next meeting will be on October 28th at 9:30 AM at the conference room at Offline Solar behind Pony Expresso. There are several new developments that we will no doubt be discussing at this meeting.

1. Jay and Steve were invited to participate in a County’s Development Review Committee meeting to discuss the potential log deck at the Bear Valley site. We submitted a drawing of what we think would be appropriate and in return the Planning Department generated a very helpful list of all the permits and other requirements that are likely needed in order to proceed. We are working with CalFIRE, and the various County Departments to find a path forward.

2. Mariposa County and other Mother-Lode Counties have declared a State of Emergency relative to the Tree Mortality problem that the Central and Southern Sierra are currently facing. Mariposa County Supervisor Rosemarie Smallcombe continues her work with the County, various State-wide agencies and the Governor’s office to promote funding, expertise and interagency cooperation in dealing with this problem as can be seen here. There is a possibility that funding for the log deck and/or perhaps the biomass facility might become available through these efforts.

3. We submitted a Rule 21 Pre-application Report Request to PG&E to see if the Bear Valley site might be a practical location for the biomass facility in terms of the costs necessary to connect and supply 2 MW into the PG&E Substation located nearby. PG&E responded positively and indicated that both the substation and the distribution line running across the Bear Valley site were both designed to handle 12 MW, but were currently only handling 2 MW. They indicated that we could feed our 2 MW power onto the existing line at a power pole near where the biomass plant might be located, thus making this site as low a cost site as likely possible from a PG&E hookup point of view.

4. We earlier reported that the Mariposa Biomass Project was collaborating with U.C. Merced Professor Gerardo Diaz and the Mariposa Public Utility District (MPUD) on turning biochar from forest biomass into activated carbon suitable for water treatment plants. This work has been proceeding slowly largely because of lack of funding. We are pleased to announce the Prof. Diaz has received a grant from the USDA for this work and he can now buy equipment and assign a graduate student to this study for up to three years. The Mariposa Biomass Project will be responsible for designing and implementing the activated carbon testing procedures with the help of MPUD and the water quality testing equipment located there.

Mariposa Biomass Fuel Availability Study Complete

The fuel availability study for the Mariposa Biomass Project is now complete and the good news is that we have enough technically and economically available fuel to support a 2 MW biomass plant. The fuel availability study, available here, was conducted by TSS Consultants and paid for by the Mariposa Firesafe Council.

Now that that the fuel availability study confirms that we have enough fuel to make the project viable, the project is at an interesting crossroads for several reasons. Until recently, we had planned on the next step being a full economic feasibility study that would take into consideration all costs and income sources to assure that the project would be economically sound. If this is the next step, we would need a grant to pay for that study, likely $40,000-$50,000. TSS Consultants could conduct that study. We however likely already know what that study would tell us and that is that we need an established market for biochar to assure long term profitability. Right now we have been assured by TSS and others that biochar is selling well, largely as an agricultural supplement for high value crops, and at a price that would meet our needs. However, we would like to see a broader biochar market established that would hopefully include conversion of biochar to activated carbon and the assignment of cap and trade monies to reward biochar producers for sequestering carbon. We have been speaking with statewide agencies in an effort to move these things forward. But can we afford to wait for these things to happen given the current urgent tree mortality/fire safety issues now facing the Sierra?

Given the current tree mortality problems in the Sierra, we have been strongly encouraged to skip the full economic feasibility study and move more quickly to full implementation of the the project, perhaps working with a developer to finance the construction and operation of the biomass plant. In particular, right now there are many bug kill trees being removed by PG&E and the Firesafe Council and they need a place to put those logs, such as a log deck, a term used to describe the placement of 40 ft logs, stacked in rows approximately 10 feet high, for future use by a saw mill, biomass facility, etc. If we could establish a log deck to store those logs until our biomass plant was up and running this would not only help current efforts to promote fire safety, but would provide our future operation with very low cost fuel. CalFire is also strongly behind the idea of a local log deck to handle all the bug kill trees that are currently being removed from our forests.

The possibility of a log deck has accelerated our interaction with the County and we have had several discussions now with County Planning and Public Works about locating such a log deck, and presumably the biomass facility on County owned land. Current thinking is that while we can likely plan on locating our facility on the newly acquired County owned 7-acre parcel adjacent to the landfill and PG&E substation, the current permit for landfill operation would prohibit us from sharing road access to that area with the landfill operation. This greatly complicates the short-term use of that 7-acres as it is unlikely that new access roads could be developed in the timely manner required by the need for a log deck. However permits can be changed and likely will be when the landfill decides later this year about its longer-term plans for use of that facility.

The County has suggested that we also consider a 30-acre parcel in Bear Valley that might be more appropriate for use as a log deck in the short-term and potentially for the biomass facility itself. The parcel in question is an abandoned landfill and is located 0.3 miles from a PG&E substation. We are currently examining whether this substation could accept the 2 MW of power that we will likely generate when the biomass plant is in full operation. In any case, road access to that parcel appears to be simpler than at the current landfill. Stay tuned.

Mariposa Rotary On July 30th, Steve Smallcombe and Jay Johnson talked to the Mariposa Rotary about the biomass project and answered their many questions. The presentation was very similar to the presentation to the Mariposa Board of Supervisors available below.

An article on the talk recently appeared in the Mariposa Gazette.

Mariposa Board of Supervisors The Mariposa Biomass Project gave a presentation to (available here) the Mariposa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday June 16th. Although this presentation was listed as an update, we gave an overview the project as a whole, as well as a review of our current status.

This update was given to let the Supervisors know that the Mariposa Firesafe Council has agreed to fund and administer the grant monies for our fuel availability study and that that study is underway.

The Watershed Research and Training Center (SWET) is also applying for a USDA Rural Business Development Grant on our behalf so that we might continue our work and we received a letter of support from the Board for that grant.

Good news!!

On June 3rd, 2015, the Mariposa Firesafe Council and Mariposa Biomass Project team members met with Tad Mason of TSS Consultants to sign a service agreement for TSS Consultants to provide our project's Fuel Availability Study (pdf of Scope of Work available here). The study will be complete by the end of August.

The Mariposa Biomass Project very much appreciates the Firesafe Council's willingness to both fund and administer the grant monies that will be used to pay for this study. It was clear to everyone who attended the meeting that Tad and TSS had the necessary expertise and experience to perform this work quickly and in a professional manner, and that TSS was also pleased to be working with us. We therefore look forward to a constructive relationship between TSS, the Firesafe Council and the Mariposa Biomass Project.

Meetings:

The Mariposa Biomass project meets, as needed, on Wednesday Mornings at 9:30 at the Offline Solar Office behind the Pony Expresso. If the meeting date conflicts with the IRWMP meeting the date is typically adjusted to avoid that conflict.

Our next meeting will be announced here when scheduled.. All are welcome.

Recent Events:

Meeting on May 27th

 

On May 27th the Mariposa Biomass Project met at the home of Rosemarie and Steve Smallcombe, and then visited the forest thinning activities at the property owned by their neighbor Russ Bockhop. In the photo above Neal Bolton (Blue Ridge Service) is describing the work done by his crew.

It is easy to see the results of the thinning operation in the before and after images below.

Biomass Talk at Symposium

Steve Smallcombe gave a talk about biomass and the Mariposa Biomass Project on May 20 at the "Healthy People in Mariposa County's Changing Climate" symposium organized by our County Health Officer, Dr. Robin Ryder.

Here is an important article about biochar in Nature. Nature is one the two most respected and widely read scientific journals (the other is Science) so this realistic discussion of biochar and its applications to agriculture and pollution control should significantly increase its visibility in the scientific world.

We added two questions to the FAQ about the markets for biochar and the potential use for local wastewater filtration/purification needs, and another about recent news reports about biomass plants being forced to close.

Incorporation

The Mariposa Biomass Project is incorporated as public  benefit corporation in the State of California and has been granted nonprofit 501 (c) (3) status by the IRS and the Franchise Tax Board so that we can pursue grants.

Our corporate officers are:
Chief Executive Officer: Jay Johnson
Secretary: George Catlin
Treasurer: Suzette Prue

Our current Directors are: Barry Brouillette and Steve Smallcombe

Jay Johnson, our CEO, is an engineer who has considerable experience in the design and construction of biomass plants.

You can contact the Mariposa Biomass Project at admin@mariposabiomassproject.org

Rosemarie Smallcombe, is stepping back from her role as the project's chief facilitator as she assumes her responsibilities as District 1 Supervisor for Mariposa County.

Biomass Talk at the Midpines Planning Advisory Committee: Steve Smallcombe gave a talk on the project at a Midpines Planning Advisory Committee meeting on December 13th. The slides from that talk are available here. The subtitle of the talk was "It's Not Your Father's Biomass" as we have found it necessary to differentiate our project from the biomass plants built in California during the 80s and 90s. Those plants were based on burning biomass to produce what was supposed to be clean, green electricity. However for a number of reasons, including air pollution, these biomass plants fell out of favor with both the public and environmentalists, as explained in the FAQ. The biomass plant we are proposing is not based on combustion or burning the biomass, but rather uses pyrolysis to generate electricity and biochar, a form of charcoal that can sold commercially, and at the same time, provides a practical mechanism of sequestering carbon rather than releasing it to the atmosphere. Steve and/or Jay are willing to give similar talks in the future to other interested groups.

The Mariposa Firesafe Council Will Fund Fuel Availability Study

The Mariposa Firesafe Council and their granting agency, the USDA, has agreed to fund a fuel availability study and will administer the grant. The fuel availability study, which will identify the potential fuel available on a sustainable basis and the cost of extraction, is an important step in determining the economic feasibility of the proposed biomass project. We had previously approached the Mariposa County Resource Conservation District about serving as a fiscal agent for such a study, but the Firesafe Council's generous offer to fund and administer the grant for the study is too good to pass up! We look forward to working with the Resource Conservation District and the Firesafe Council as the project moves forward. 

We now have a FAQ page that presents information about the Mariposa Biomass Project. This FAQ combines the information in the White Paper and Slideshow in a more easily readable form.

Tour of the Phoenix Energy Biomass/Biochar Facility in Merced

Phoenix Energy Merced Tout

The Mariposa Biomass Project group, and others interested in the project, had a tour of the Phoenix Energy Biomass/Biochar facility in Merced on June 23rd. In background of this picture you can see the gasification reactor where pyrolysis (heating in the absence of oxygen) converts woody biomass to syngas and biochar.

Greg Stangl

The owner of Phoenix Energy, Greg Stangl gave the tour, explained the technology and the changes they have made in subsequent and planned installations, difficulties in connecting with PG&E, financing options, as well as answering questions from tour participants. In the background of this picture you can see the enclosure where a generator is housed to burn the syngas to produce electricity that is sold to PG&E. Greg also explained that there is high demand for biochar as an agricultural soil supplement, and the currently biochar is responsible for 40% of the facility's revenue.

Biomass Talk at the Mariposa Democratic Club: Project leaders, Steve and Rosemarie Smallcombe, gave a talk on the project at the Mariposa Democratic Club Meeting on June 14th, 2014. The event was taped by the Sierra Sun Times and the audio of that talk was combined with the slides by the Sierra Sun Times at the following link.

Overview: The Mariposa Biomass Project formed as the convergence of efforts by two groups. One, a citizens group tentatively named Mariposa Forward, which is interested in promoting renewable energy in Mariposa County and how its use can lower residential, business, and government energy costs, make our energy supply more reliable and secure, and enhance and diversify the Mariposa County’s economy. The second group is interested in promoting forest thinning for fire safely and forest health. The idea of the combined effort was to provide economic value to the small-diameter forest products, or slash, that result from forest clearing efforts while avoiding some of the health and climate change concerns associated with burning that slash in the forest, all while attracting new industry to the County and diversifying our economy.

We are working with the the Statewide Wood Energy Team and have received a grant for a Pre-feasibility Opportunity Scan to assure this project make economic sense before proceeding. Having passed that hurdle, we are now working on a review by PG&E of the project and our intent to sell them excess energy, and on obtaining funding for a fuel availability study.

Use the tabs on the left to read a white paper written to help the group define and understand its goals and objectives, or view a slideshow explaining the project (updated 6/14/2014 after the presentation at the Mariposa Democratic Club Meeting).

Questions or Comments:

For questions about the organization, contact the Mariposa Biomass Project at admin@mariposabiomassproject.org

For comments on the website: Steve Smallcombe at shs@sti.net