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Supporting Additional Infrastructure Sierra Nevada Watershed Improvement Program

“Utilizing biomass to create energy and wood products can offset the cost of restoration activities and significantly reduce the adverse impacts of other means of waste disposal, but we don’t have enough infrastructure to process the amount of material that needs to be removed as part of ecological forest restoration in the Sierra Nevada Region. This is why the Sierra Nevada Watershed Improvement Program is working to support the development of additional biomass power generation facilities in the Sierra Nevada Region.” Jim Branham, Sierra Nevada Conservancy

In September 2016, California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that called on electricity retailers to enter into five-year contracts for 125 megawatts (MW) of biomass capacity with facilities that generate energy from wood harvested from high-fire-hazard zones. This legislation encourages the use of material removed during restoration activities in the Sierra Nevada, and stabilizes the biomass utilization industry by requiring that energy retailers purchase bioenergy at an industry-sustaining price.

“Developing new biomass utilization facilities or upgrading existing facilities can be complex and expensive for small communities in the Sierra Nevada, but many of these communities recognize that the long-term benefits gained - like reduced wildfire risk, improved air quality, and healthier watersheds - outweigh the costs. Supporting efforts at the community level is critical for advancing the Watershed Improvement Program.” Jim Branham, Sierra Nevada Conservancy

The Sierra Nevada Conservancy hosted a three-year capacity-building and technical assistance program which has helped a dozen small communities move forward with bioenergy projects. Four of them (North Fork, Mariposa, Camptonville, and Hat Creek) have been awarded $20 million in project implementation funding from the CA Energy Commission’s Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) grant program, a program designed to support investments in clean energy technologies that provide benefits to major electricity providers’ ratepayers.

National Disaster Resilience Competition

In January 2016, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that California would receive a grant in the amount of $70 million to support the California Community and Watershed Resilience Program — a collaborative effort between multiple state and federal agencies and Tuolumne County. The program promotes community and forest resilience in and around the area affected by the Rim Fire of 2013 through strategic investments in community cohesion and well-being, on-the-ground forest health activities, and the design and construction of a biomass utilization facility. With a budget of $22 million to support a detailed feasibility study and site development, the biomass utilization facility will demonstrate how upfront investments in wood processing infrastructure can create appropriately scaled and financially viable businesses that support vital forest health activities and support local economies.

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