Wyden Introduces bill to boost biomass energy

By Sen. Ron Wyden's office | May 13, 2015

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has introduced a bill that would spur the use of low-carbon biomass energy to heat and power homes and businesses, while reducing the risk of wildfires and creating jobs in rural areas. 

The BioEnergy Act of 2015 would establish a competitive, cost-share grant program at the U.S. Department of Energy to improve technologies for drying and compressing woody biomass, which improves fuel quality and allows biomass producers to more easily transport wood products from forested areas to market.

The program would also help establish new technologies, from new power plant designs to neighborhood heating systems, for using biomass for heat and power. By expanding uses for the small trees that overcrowd forests and worsen the risks of wildfires, the bill will also help restore healthier and more resilient forests in Oregon and across the country.

“Oregonians in rural communities have already found that using biomass energy can be a low-cost, low-carbon way to heat their homes,” Wyden said. “This bill will reduce wildfire risks by putting to good use the hazardous fuels that overcrowd our forests, and create jobs in rural Oregon by making it easier to take biomass projects from the woods to other parts of the country.”

Integrated Biomass Resources, based in Wallowa County, Oregon, recently won an innovation grant through the USDA for its system to trap steam that would otherwise escape and use it to dry sawdust for compressed logs.

“The combined approach to support distributed processing and transportation/logistics is extremely important to the economic viability of biomass energy in Northeast Oregon. If we’re ever going to reach a point where biomass value supports forest restoration, we’re going to need scalable, localized processing and markets. This program could be a great step in that direction,” said David Schmidt, president of Integrated Biomass Resources.

Additionally, the bill creates a cost-share grant program through the U.S. Forest Service for commercially proven biomass projects that are already used to power homes and businesses, as well as a loan program through the USDA for future developers. The bill would also support continued research into the environmental sustainability and economics of using biomass for heat and power, and would establish a collaborative platform for directing this research across the Departments of Energy and Agriculture.  

Bruce Daucsavage, president of Ochoco Lumber Co, expressed support for Wyden’s bill. Ochoco Lumber operates a mill in the Malheur National Forest that manufactures biomass pellets and bricks for home heating and exports those pellets globally.

“We believe a coordinated strategy of public and private investment in the utilization of biomass markets would enhance our ability to reduce the overall cost of much needed forest restoration,” Daucsavage said. “Several western companies are currently attempting to expand the use of forest biomass through the development of innovative projects but need additional funding to help design and engineer these new systems. New project developments will enable product introductions and establish new markets for these products. These markets have the potential to produce significant benefits for new rural job creation, energy conservation and climate change.”

Earlier this year, Wyden asked the General Services Administration and the USDA to lift restrictions on the use of biomass energy technologies in the construction of new federal buildings. The GSA works with federal agencies to find space for offices, visitor centers and other federal facilities.

Read the bill text here and a one-page summary here.