The National Forest Foundation on Wednesday announced the winner of the 2016/2017 Barrett Foundation Business Concept Challenge. This unique competition provides awards for the best entrepreneurial approaches that help to solve one or more of the challenges facing America’s 193-million-acre national forest system.
Sponsor Dr. Craig R. Barrett, former chairman and CEO of Intel and current chairman of the NFF’s Board of Directors, described the purpose of this competition as, “stimulating new ideas and cultivating the next generation of entrepreneurial natural resource and business leaders.”
This year’s winner, the Sierra Institute for Community and Environment, submitted an innovative proposal that meets Barrett’s vision of the Challenge.
The Sierra Institute proposed capitalizing on California’s unique energy markets and its abundant source of wood biomass.
The Institute’s proposal calls for a three megawatt combined heat and power (CHP) energy facility powered by local, sustainably harvested wood, co-located with other wood-products businesses. The plant would be located in rural Plumas County, California, an area hit especially hard by downturns in the timber industry and with national forests making up two-thirds of the county, much of them fire-prone.
Yet Plumas County, which has lost thousands of timber-related jobs since the 1990s, would benefit immensely from such a plant. Additionally, as a small nonprofit, the Institute would unlikely be unable to raise enough capital to finance a biomass plant of this type.
To address these concerns and move the project forward, the team created a coalition of project sponsors and proposed a small-scale biomass plant co-located with other wood-products industries like the first cross-laminated-timber (CLT) mill in California, a firewood production facility, a wood chip processing facility for use by local biomass boilers in the county, and even a greenhouse heated by the biomass energy plant.
The CHP plant would sell renewable energy to California’s uniquely regulated energy market and would sell heat created by the biomass facility to the other business co-located on the campus.
All the businesses would utilize locally and sustainably harvested wood from nearby national forests, adding further value by reducing the forests’ risk of uncharacteristic wildfire and improving forest health. This model makes it economically viable for a nonprofit to build such a small energy plant in a rural community.
The Institute believes, “This project will demonstrate how a facility utilizing local, sustainably harvested biomass can generate efficient renewable energy and with co-product development be financially viable.”
Jonathan Kusel, executive director of the Sierra Institute, stated: “We’re thrilled to be recognized for this work and the excellent work of our close partners on the project, and thrilled also because this award is reflective of the collective effort of the many rural communities across California we’re privileged to work with.”
“This year’s prize winner promises to deliver the results we developed the Barrett Challenge to stimulate,” said Bill Possiel, president of the NFF. “By beginning from the ground up and envisioning an enterprise that combines multiple wood-products and utilizes heat and energy as additional value-added products, the Sierra Institute has developed an idea that can benefit both the local community and the national forests that surround it.”
The Sierra Institute will be recognized at an awards ceremony April 19, in Washington, DC.
For more information about the Barrett Challenge and the Sierra Institute’s winning concept, visit www.nationalforests.org/grant-programs/barrett-challenge.
The National Forest Foundation promotes the enhancement and public enjoyment of the national forest system. By directly engaging Americans and leveraging private and public funding, the NFF improves forest health and Americans’ outdoor experiences.
Learn more at www.nationalforests.org.