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The biomass boiler at the Plumas County Health and Human Services Building is near completion and will be up and running April 6. This is the first of its kind in California and was developed by the Sierra Institute for Community and Environment. Photo by Carolyn Shipp

Biomass boiler debuts April 6

After three years in the making, the Plumas County Health and Humans Services Building will finally have the heat it needs with the help of a state-of-the-art biomass boiler system. The Sierra Institute has been leading the way in building the community scale biomass boiler and on Friday, April 6, the system will finally be up and running.

The boiler is a product of a California Energy Commission grant and is an effort to demonstrate sustainable heating and power sources as well as forest management opportunities.

The system heats water up to 200 degrees with the help of a giant wood-burning furnace. The water cools down to 90 degrees by the time it goes through the geothermal system. The hot water runs through pipes in the building, heats the facility, then loops back to the system to be reheated.

Wood chips from small logs, downed unhealthy trees and forest undergrowth are conveyed into a large furnace and burned to both heat the water and generate enough power to cover the operation of the biomass boiler. The carbon footprint of the entire system is less than that of six woodstoves in a year.

This small scale dual heat and power boiler is the first of its kind in California. Most biomass facilities in the United States are large scale power generators. This boiler is based off an Austrian model of community heating systems, and there are only a few in the country like it.

According to Camille Swezy, Sierra Institute’s Biomass Program assistant, the project is a demonstration of what can be done on a small level to help develop sustainable energy locally. It is also an avenue for healthy forest management, as many companies can market their wood chips from cleanup projects.

“Overall we would like this to be fueled by forest health projects,” said Swezy.

Another effort the institute has made toward fostering healthy forests was the use of cross-laminated timber in the building’s construction. The product is stronger than steel and made of wood that came from small logs or trees that were affected by bark beetle.

The biomass building is now the only building in the state that is fully encased in CLT and it is just another way the project demonstrates what can be done with trees that can’t be used for typical purposes.

The project will be up and running April 6, and Swezy says members from CalFire, the California Energy Commission, and members of the California Tree Mortality Taskforce will come to the ribbon cutting that day.

“Everyone who funded it is coming up. People in the network are really excited about this,” she said.

Once it is running, the county will take over operation of the facility. Swezy said there may be other opportunities to establish other small systems in the community, but this new boiler is their first success.

4 thoughts on “Biomass boiler debuts April 6

  • So will citizens of the county be able to take green yard waste, ie: tree limbs, leaves, pine needles, grass clippings, etc to this location for use in this system like they could when SPI was taking it?

  • Not the 1st of its kind in California! Mono County has been operating its Viessmann chip boiler at the maintenance shop for 2 years now.

  • This sounds interesting. Where can I get more information?


  • What will they do with the ash that may contain carcinogens?
    Why the need for the boiler?
    Geo thermal only needs the earth to heat and cool structures on the surface. Temperatures at a depth of 10 feet or more stay constant.

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