Sierra Institute for Community and Environment, a research organization focused on education and community collaboration, has won a $100,000 national competition for its entrepreneurial approach to solving challenges facing national forests across the country.
The institute’s winning business plan capitalizes on California’s alternative energy markets and the woody material available in local national forests, which occupy two-thirds of the land base in Plumas County, where the institute is located.
The proposal calls for a three-megawatt facility that would produce both heat and electricity. Located in Plumas near other wood-products businesses, it would be fueled by small diameter trees and logging waste and sell electricity to California’s energy market, said Greg Peters, a spokesman for the National Forest Foundation, the contest’s sponsor.
The heat generated by the biomass plant would be sold to other wood-product facilities located on a campus envisioned to include a firewood production facility, a wood-chip processing facility, cross-laminated timber production and a greenhouse heated by the biomass energy plant.
The proposal drew the judges’ attention for its challenge to several traditional concepts, Peters said. It locates a small-scale biomass facility in a rural region, where conventional thinking suggests it would not be economically viable. The Sierra Institute business concept also comes from a non-profit organization, conventionally thought to be unable to raise enough capital to finance a biomass plant of this type.
Jonathan Kusel, the institute’s executive director, credited the proposal’s success to its close partnerships and the collective effort of many rural communities across California.
Sierra Institute is working with a $2.6 California Energy Commission grant, most of it going to contractors constructing a biomass-fired heating system for a building in Quincy, said Camille Swezy, the institute’s biomass program associate. Some of the matching energy grant will also fund a wood-products campus to include the enterprises envisioned in the business proposal.
The Barrett Foundation Business Concept Challenge award, to be presented Wednesday in Washington, D.C., is sponsored by the National Forest Foundation, which promotes the 193-million acre National Forest System. Named for Craig R. Barrett, former chairman and CEO of Intel and current chairman of the foundation’s Board of Directors, the contest is designed to stimulate new and entrepreneurial business ideas for managing national forests.