Delivery trucks unload wood chips to be converted into bioenergy that will provide power to Susanville and adjacent communities. USDA Forest Service photo by Amanda Oliver.
Perched at the edge of the Great Basin, the city of Susanville, California, has experienced high winds, heavy snowfalls, and wildfires that disrupt power supplied on the regular grid. Fortunately, the city’s 20,000 residents, as well as those in surrounding rural communities, aren’t left in the dark for long.
Just 20 minutes away in Wendell, California, the Honey Lake Power plant is busy converting wood waste into energy to bring the lights back on. Honey Lake normally provides its electric output to San Diego Gas & Electric under a long-term power purchase agreement. In the event that Lassen County is disconnected from the larger California electric grid, Honey Lake supports local grid reliability by providing power to the Lassen Municipal Utility District, the local power district, for the town of Susanville and adjacent communities.
This 30-megawatt bioenergy electrical generation facility is one of seven bioenergy plants in California with special contracts authorized by the state legislation to obtain 80% of their feedstock from forest biomass from high hazard zones, such as those with trees killed by fires, wind events, insects and disease.
Biomass typically includes urban tree trimmings, sawmill by-products, and forest-derived fuels like the tops of saw logs, wood chips and slash.
When it comes to biomass, the Lassen National Forest has plenty to offer. Honey Lake Power burns between 150,000 and 200,000 tons of woody biomass per year, including about 140,000 bone dry tons acquired from forest thinning and fuels reduction on 10,000 acres of public and private lands. Of this, it’s estimated that the Lassen supplies up to 20% – wood waste that would otherwise be burned on site, either in planned pile burns or as fuel for the next wildfire. Much of this fuel is classified as ladder fuels that allow flames to reach the tops of larger trees.
“Bioenergy offers other significant environmental and consumer benefits, including improving forest health, protecting air quality and providing the most dependable renewable energy source,” said Deb Bumpus, forest supervisor for the Lassen National Forest.