USDA to invest in expanding wood energy markets

By Erin Voegele | October 21, 2016

The USDA has announced it will invest up to $7 million in grants for projects designed to expand wood products and wood energy markets that support sustainable forest management, especially in areas with high wildfire risk. The grants will be made available in through the U.S. Forest Service’s Wood Innovations Program.

According to the request for proposals (RFP) published to the Wood Education and Resource Center website, proposals must be submitted by Jan. 23. Applicants are scheduled to be notified of the results in mid-April, with awards made in early July.

The RFP focuses on three main priorities. The first is to reduce hazardous fuels and improve forest health on National Forest System and other forest lands. The second is to reduce the costs of forest management on all types of land, while the third is to promote the economic and environmental health of communities.

Grants will be awarded under two categories. The first category aims to expand wood energy markets by stimulating, expanding, and supporting wood energy markets that depend on forest residues or forest byproducts generated from all land types. Projects can include, but are not limited to, the development of a cluster of wood energy projects in a geographic area or specific sector, or overcoming market barriers to stimulate expansion of wood energy in the commercial sector. According to the RFP, complete requirements, such as engineering designs, cost analysis and permitting, are necessary in the later stages of wood energy project development to secure financing.

The second grant category aims to expand wood products market by promoting markets that create or expand the demand for non-energy-based wood products. The RFP notes preference will be given to projects that support commercial building markets or other markets that use innovative wood products.

The RFP was announced Oct. 19, during the week President Obama has proclaimed National Forest Products Week. In his proclamation, Obama recognized USDA's work to promote the use of wood energy and wood products, stating, "The health and well-being of our forests and our communities go hand in hand. With the Department of Agriculture, we are working to strengthen markets for forest products. By allocating millions of dollars to help expand technologies that encourage the use of wood in innovative ways, we are also striving to improve forest health and generate rural jobs. And we are exploring ways to help forestland owners respond to climate change—earlier this year, we released a roadmap for implementing key building blocks to achieve this goal, such as private forest growth and retention, stewardship of Federal forests, and promotion of wood products."

Promotion of wood products is one of the ten "building blocks" in USDA's Building Blocks for Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry, the Department's framework for helping farmers, ranchers, and forestland owners respond to climate change. Through this initiative, USDA is committing to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing carbon stored in forests and soils by over 120 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year by 2025. That amount is equivalent of taking 25 million cars off the road, or offsetting the emissions produced by powering nearly 11 million homes.

"Growing markets for wood products and wood energy create new uses for diseased wood that otherwise would be hazardous fuel in our nation's forests, where we are experiencing increasingly longer and more intense wildfire seasons. By getting this wood out of the forests and putting it to use as building material or a renewable energy source, we are able to sustain the health of our forests and maintain their capacity to store carbon," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "Already, USDA has invested nearly $1 billion into 240 projects to uncover innovative new uses for wood, and our Tall Wood Building Prize Competition is proving that multi-story buildings made of wood can be a reality in major U.S. cities. This new round of funding will no doubt inspire additional opportunities for the benefit of our forests and climate."

Since 2005, more than 240 grants have been awarded to small businesses, non-profits, Tribes, states, and local governments to improve forest health while creating jobs, renewable energy and healthy communities. Since 2013, this funding has also helped establish 22 Statewide Wood Energy Teams and six Statewide Wood Utilization Teams that collectively expand and support wood energy and wood products markets.

Additional information on the funding RFP can be found on the Wood Education and Resource Center website.