August 7, 2015
Yesterday a meeting was held with staff of the Sierra Nevada Conservancy (SNC). The bad news was as expected, a preliminary feasibility study for a biomass-to-bioenergy facility won’t be funded by the SNC under their present grant program which is Proposition 1. This is because these funds can only be used to fund studies for a specific site, and until we get the preliminary feasibility study done we won’t know exactly where that site should be. The good news is that no new potential fatal flaws were uncovered, and the SNC will continue to help find alternate funding. However at the moment they don’t know of any specific grants available. The search for potential grant funding for the study will continue.
The SNC would prefer to see a staged approach, with the initial study to be a biomass availability study to make sure there is enough available biomass to fuel the facility. We may have to settle for that as the first step, but it would be more productive if funding can be found to complete the entire preliminary feasibility study.
The SNC discussed the possibility of a biomass-to-thermal plant in Woodfords that could heat the Community Development, Health and Human Services departments, and possibly the Diamond Valley School. Mono County has just or is about to start up such a facility near Bridgeport. A small amount of funding is available to see if it might make sense, and if it does then a Category 1 grant from the SNC should be enough to buy and install the system. This would be a County owned and operated facility and it will be up to the County as to whether or not it makes sense. This will be a very small facility and not require much biomass. Consequently this will do essentially nothing to promote fire safe communities, healthy forests and watersheds, and a strong sustainable local economy. However it might save the County some money. This might make more sense on the west side where the winters are colder, but that will be a County decision.
The SNC will continue to be involved and help us, in particular with working with the Humboldt-Toiyabe to update their Land and Resource Use Plan to allow for and encourage harvesting excess biomass from the forest. If successful this will remove one potential fatal flaw and will be a huge contribution.
This effort to look at the feasibility of a biomass-to-bioenergy facility in Alpine County has been advanced to date by an informal committee of three, with considerable encouragement from several others. The three are Don Hittenmiller, Mary Rawson and myself. In the not too distant future we will need to formalize and expand the committee. At this point what form it may take is up for discussion. The two obvious choices are either an NGO which would probably eventually need to be a 501-c3 charitable organization, or some sort of County sponsored committee. My personal preference at the moment is for it to be a County sponsored committee as it will be simpler in the beginning. Others may reasonably disagree.
The SNC strongly recommends that we consider joining or allying in some way with the Amador Calaveras Consensus Group (see https://acconsensus.wordpress.com/). They have done an incredible job over the years, and have a lot of experience to share with us. They have been informally and generously helping us from the beginning, and have indicated that we would be welcome. However their problems were different than ours. They are also in a different region of the Forest Service and have a different utility to deal with. We should ally with them where it makes sense, but how close the relationship should be is up for discussion.
Promoting fire safe communities, healthy forests and watersheds, and a strong sustainable local economy.