Earlier this week, USDA, U.S. Forest Service and partners took a major step to improve forest management, create rural jobs, prevent wildfires, and expand promising renewable energy opportunities.
Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden joined leaders from the Alliance for Green Heat, the Biomass Power Association, the Biomass Thermal Energy Council, and the Pellet Fuels Institute here in Washington for the announcement of a new partnership agreement. Acting as master of ceremonies for the signing event was Acting USDA Rural Development Under Secretary Doug O’Brien. Through the Rural Energy for America program and other programs, Rural Development has been a leader in promoting deployment of wood-to-energy projects.
This agreement focuses on promoting wood energy nationwide to reduce fire risk, bolster rural economic development, improve air quality and help meet the Obama Administration’s “All of the Above” renewable energy and energy efficiency goals. The organizations support the use of wood energy across the scale of users – from residential users, to commercial and institutional facilities, to industrial production of heat and/or electricity to drive businesses and feed the electrical grid.
For more than a decade, USDA has supported wood energy as part of a forest restoration economy. Since 2009 USDA has invested over $956 million (nearly $1 billion) through grants, loans, and loan guarantees to support over 200 wood energy projects across the country.
Led by the Forest Service, this work helps to restore the health of forests and watersheds, provide rural areas with cost-effective energy alternatives, and create new income and employment opportunities in sectors ranging from engineering and construction, to manufacturing and forestry. It also provides an economical alternative to fuel oil heating in areas where natural gas supplies are limited. USDA’s Rural Development mission area and the Farm Services Agency also support wood energy through a variety of grants, loans, and loan guarantees. All told, USDA agencies contributed over $500 million last year to support wood energy.
The Deputy Secretary also announced the award of over $1 million dollars in grants to develop wood energy teams with Alaska, California, Idaho, Minnesota and New Hampshire. These cooperative agreements signal that successful wood energy projects and forest restoration efforts demand partnership at all levels as well as the sustained commitment of many and diverse forest users. The federal funds will leverage $1.8 million in non-federal investments.
Grant recipients are:
Idaho Governor’s Office of Energy Resources, Boise
The Watershed Research & Training Center, Hayfork, Calif.
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Saint Paul
North Country Resource Conservation & Development Council, Gilford, N.H.
The Alaska Energy Authority, Anchorage