Biomass Summit coming to Prineville
Late in the last decade, local leaders were giving biomass some serious consideration as a potential renewable energy source or economic driver.
However, several challenges, including the securing of a sustainable supply of woody materials, caused interest in biomass to die down in recent years.
Organizers of an upcoming biomass summit hope to change that narrative and bring the forest-driven resource back to the forefront.
The summit, scheduled next Friday (Oct. 19) at the Crook County Open Campus building, was organized by leaders of the Ochoco Forest Restoration Collaborative (OFRC) along with presenters from Oregon State University Extension Service and Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council (COIC).
OFRC is a group comprised of local government leaders, timber executives, public land agency representatives and conservation organization members who meet on a regular basis to find common ground on forest management.
"We did an exercise with the Collaborative to get at what some of the pressing questions were and one of the big barriers to forest restoration on the Ochoco and other dry forests throughout Central and Eastern Oregon is the economics around the biomass that doesn't have a traditional saw log market," said Nicole Strong, Collaborative member and assistant professor in forestry and natural resources at Oregon State University Extension. "That makes the restoration really expensive, especially on the Ochoco National Forest and for our private landowners in Crook County."
With the biomass summit, the Collaborative hopes to explore what some of the market opportunities are to help utilize wood and pay for forest restoration.
Prineville Mayor Betty Roppe co-convenes the Collaborative and said that the group has been contemplating for a year and a half what can be done with biomass in Prineville — why bring it to the community and what should be done with it?
For city leaders, much of the interest is driven by a need have to as many electricity-producing options as possible.
"We want to find every method of producing energy that we can," Roppe said. "We have excess to miscellaneous timber in our woods that we are burning out in the field. We would prefer to bring it into a biomass plant."
Event organizers have multiple views of why prior biomass pursuits in Prineville and Crook County have come up fruitless. Strong believes community leaders perhaps pursued a project too large in scope.
"They were thinking big," she said. "I think the answer is going to be in an integrated campus that has lots of small markets. I don't think we're ever going to want to put all of our eggs in one basket."
Janel Ruehl, program coordinator with COIC, believes that people had too narrow of a view on how biomass could be used.
"It might just be electrical generation or it could be heat," she said. "But we really want to use this summit to expose Crook County to a wide range of opportunities for biomass utilization that is really focused on this small diameter wood that we have a lot of in the forest."
The summit, which is scheduled from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 19, will feature multiple guest speakers from the City of Prineville, Energy Trust of Oregon, Ochoco Lumber Company, Oregon Department of Forestry and more. The event will include discussions on success stories, how to scale biomass projects to the right size for local supply, emerging technologies, and policy and financial opportunities.
Once the event concludes, organizers plan to compile the information from the session and produce a report that could be used by potential investors who are interested in launching a biomass project in Crook County.
About 60 people have already registered for the summit, which organizers stress it open to all. A few openings remain and people can register for the event until Oct. 15.
"We are hoping to get as many local community members there as possible," Ruehl said.
The Ochoco Forest Restoration Biomass Summit is scheduled on Friday, Oct. 19, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. To register, go to www.ochocoforest.org/biomass-summit or visit the OSU Crook County Extension office, 498 SE Lynn Blvd. Cost to register is $25, although attendance is free for those who volunteer for the event.