I read Bruce Patterson’s recent letter to the AVA with interest, particularly his reference to the possibility of Mendocino Redwood Company turning one of their stagnant mill sites into a biomass fueled power plant. MRC has not publicly taken steps toward biomass regeneration, but there does exist a diverse group of landowners, foresters, and concerned citizens who are interested in developing a biomass facility in or around Fort Bragg.
The concept of biomass substituting for a sizable amount of P G&E power strode one step closer to reality when SB 1122 was signed into law last September by Governor Brown. It requires the state’s three largest public utilities to acquire up to 250 megawatts of renewable energy from small biomass or biogas producers who utilize low emission technologies.
Small biomass means a producer of 3 megawatts or less. At a March 22nd meeting with Congressman Huffman, the Mendocino Coast group unveiled a draft prospectus which states that enough fuel supply exists to run a 10 megawatt power plant in the Fort Bragg area.
Biomass fuels are measured in bone dry tons (BDTs). Hopefully, the name helps readers understand that not just any woody debris will qualify for a biomass plant. Suffice it to say, a three megawatt plant could provide a nice dent in local power supply needs. At present, the area between Albion and Westport uses an average of 15.7 megawatts, with a peak of 23.6 megawatts in the hours between noon and 8 p.m. As Bruce Patterson’s letter suggests, a biomass facility would make good use of hardwoods as well, hopefully preventing the wholesale poisoning of tan oaks as residents throughout the county have seen happening on Mendocino Redwood Company lands.
Many readers may have forgotten that our Board of Supervisors voted thumbs up on the biomass concept back in 2004. The idea first came to public light two years before as an agenda item of the county’s Resource Conservation District. RCD director Craig Blencowe then took it to the Supes. Full disclosure: Craig Blencowe has been the registered professional forester (RPF) for the Macdonald family’s non-industrial timber harvest plan for more than twenty years.
A little more recent history: In 2006 the North Coast Resource Conservation and Development Council commissioned a county wide feasibility study. The same year, the City of Fort Bragg commissioned its own study, determining that enough fuels exist to sustain a 15 megawatt plant.
In March, 2008 the Mendocino Coast Woody Biomass Collaborative officially formed, chaired by Jere Melo. After Melo’s death, City of Fort Bragg planning commission chair Derek Hoyle volunteered to serve as facilitator and information officer, with Blencowe as Collaborative Coordinator (assisted by RPF Darcie Mahoney).
The three proposed sites for a Fort Bragg area biomass plant are the old Georgia-Pacific bark dump, 590 acres of Mendocino Coast Park and Recreation District land (the failed golf course project), and a variably sized tract of Hawthorne Timber Co. land. All three properties are a few miles southeast of Fort Bragg, adjacent to Highway 20 and the main 60 KV transmission line running from Willits to the coast. The old bark dump was the preferred site of the feasibility studies, but each location has its pros and cons.
Large landowners such as Campbell Timber Management, Gualala Redwoods, and Soper-Wheeler Co. have signed non-binding expressions of interest, which means they’ve made good faith proclamations to provide available hardwoods and non-merchantable conifers for a biomass facility. Independent foresters Darcie Mahoney, Randy Jacobszoon, Linwood Gill, Lee Susan, and Craig Blencowe have also signed on to make available non-merchantable material and hardwoods.