Forest Service opens wood-to-energy funding opportunities

By Erin Voegele | April 22, 2014

The U.S. Forest has announced it is seeking proposals for two separate wood-to-energy funding opportunities, including the Hazardous Fuels Wood-to-Energy (W2E) Grant program and the Statewide Wood Energy Team cooperative agreement program. According to the Forest Service, both funding programs promote use of wood biomass from National Forest System lands and place more emphasis this year on encouraging clustering of projects that improve efficiencies and economies of scale.

"USDA through the Forest Service is supporting development of wood energy projects that promote sound forest management, expand regional economies, and create new jobs," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "These efforts, part of the Obama Administration's 'all of the above' energy strategy, create opportunities for wood energy products to enter the marketplace."

"Building stronger markets for innovative wood products supports sustainable forestry, reduces wildfire risk, and creates energy savings for rural America," said Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.

Information released by the USDA indicates the Forest Service is expected to provide approximately $2.8 million through the W2E grant program to help successful applications complete the engineering design work needed to apply for public or private loans for construction and long-term financing of wood energy facilities. An additional $1.7 million is expected to be made available under the SWET cooperating agreement program inviting public-private teams to seek funding to advance wood energy. Activities may include workshops that provide technical, financial and environmental information, preliminary engineering assessments, and community outreach needed to support development of wood energy projects.

Eligible applicants for the SWET program include state, local and tribal governments; nonprofit organizations; and public utilities districts. Cost sharing is required. According to the Forest Service, individual cooperative agreements will not exceed $250,000.

The W2E program is designed to fund projects for which some or all of the woody biomass is generated from National Forest Service System lands as a result of hazardous fuel treatments, forest restoration activities, insect and disease mitigation, catastrophic weather events or thinning overstocked stands. To be eligible, the projects must anticipate using wood from at least some National Forest System lands. Projects that use wood biomass from multiple land ownerships or multiple sources, however, will be considered. According to the Forest Service, the woody biomass must be used in commercially proven wood energy systems to produce thermal, electrical, liquid or gaseous energy. Eligible applications include for-profit organizations; state local and tribal governments; or special purpose districts. Cost sharing is required, and applicants must demonstrate at least a 20 percent match of total project cost. Individual grants cannot exceed $250,000.

The Forest Service has also launched a new Wood Energy Financial App for use by community and business leaders seeking to replace fossil fuel with wood energy. The tool allows users to do a simple and quick analysis to see if wood energy is a viable alternative for their community or small business. It can be accessed via the internet or an eBook. The App and eBook were developed through a partnership with Dennis Becker, associate professor, and Steve Taft, extension economist, at the University of Minnesota; Eini Lowell, wood technology specialist at the Pacific Northwest Research Station; Dan Bihn, engineer at Bihn Systems; and Roy Anderson, senior consultant at The Beck Group.

"The USDA's announcement of the Statewide Wood Energy teams, wood to energy grants, and Project Calculator affirms the agency's growing recognition and commitment to biomass thermal energy that was formalized under the Biomass Energy MOU,” said Joseph Seymour, executive director of the Biomass Thermal Energy Council. “Meaningful agency resources are now being targeted towards issues of high need such as an easy to access project calculator that will aid in fuel switching institutions and businesses, to supporting innovative state efforts to utilize low value biomass residues and promote forest health.  What may be most significant, however, is that thermal is a lynch pin of each of today's announcements.  We are finding traction."

"Biomass and smart forestry management practices go hand in hand. We are pleased that the U.S. Department of Agriculture acknowledges this with its wise investment in wood-to-energy projects," said Bob Cleaves, president and CEO of the Biomass Power Association. "We look forward to continuing to work with USDA to keep forests healthy, reduce the risk of catastrophic fires, and generate clean power." 

Applications for the SWET cooperative agreement are due May 20. The application deadline for the W2E grant program is June 3. An informational webinars for each program will be held on May 1. Additional information on the funding opportunities is available on the Federal Register website.