Biomass gasification project gets California funding help

A project of Phoenix Energy‘s joint venture, North Fork Community Power LLC, was awarded a $4.9 million grant announced April 8 at a California Energy Commission business meeting.

The award will be used to construct one of the first forest-sourced biomass gasification plants, as well as research into the emerging field of forest biomass utilization, Phoenix Energy said. The plant will utilize local forest biomass sustainably sourced from restoration and fuel reduction activities on local forest lands, including the Sierra National Forest. The biomass will be used to make electricity, heat and biochar – a solid carbon byproduct that is used as a soil conditioner and filter media. The project will also be one of the first projects to use forest-based fuel under California’s new SB 1122 bioenergy law. 

“This project is a fantastic community story and an example of what can be accomplished with a robust a public/private partnership,” said Phoenix Energy CEO Gregory Stangl. “In the North Fork community, a sawmill was the main employer for years, and local jobs evaporated when it closed down in the 1990s.”

Representing the North Fork community in the joint venture is the North Fork Community Development Council (North Fork CDC), a non-profit established to encourage economic development after the closure of the mill. “We are delighted to be able to combine environmental stewardship together with job creation and sustainable energy production for our community,” said Dan Rosenberg, North Fork CDC President. “We are hoping that our plant will serve as a model for other forested communities while having a positive environmental impact and improving the fire safety of our community.”

The plant will be built in phases with an initial 1 MW financed mainly by the California Energy Commission grant and private and community investors. The facility will sell power to Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) under California’s landmark SB1122 bioenergy law.

Phoenix Energy is an independent power producer that operates a network of small, distributed generation biomass gasification plants in partnership with businesses and communities. By focusing on small plants in the 1 MW-3 MW range, the company said it strives to keep electricity, heat and fuel local to the plant, where the value of energy is highest and transportation costs are lower.

California commission approves funding for a number of small power projects

The California Energy Commission on April 8 approved more than $83.7 million in grants and loans for 46 projects at its monthly business meeting, ranging from a plant that converts forest waste to electricity to a manufacturing line for all-electric public buses.

The 2014 Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) Annual Report to the Legislature also won approval from the commission. EPIC is a multiyear, research investment program focuses on creating electricity-related innovations and bringing clean energy ideas to the marketplace.

Among the grants awarded by the commission were:

  • Nearly $21 million for nine projects that convert organic, municipal waste, and/or landfill waste into electricity in Brawley, Forest Hill, Orange County, Palm Springs, Redwood City, San Benito, San Bernardino County, Riverside and San Jose.
  • About $18 million for new microgrid projects in Fremont, Santa Rosa, Chino, Livermore and Borrego Springs that use renewable electricity, as well as smart inverters that automatically adjust to grid conditions.
  • A $5 million grant to install a commercial-scale gasification-to-electricity facility in North Fork within Madera County that converts forest wood waste to renewable electricity, while reducing fire risk, protecting watersheds, improving air quality and generating jobs. That is the Phoenix Energy project.
About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.