USDA provides $1 million in stimulus grants for biomass projects

Four Colorado projects that convert wood waste, or biomass, into energy received a total of $1 million in federal stimulus funds Thursday, but a state with more than two million acres of dead and dying lodgepole pine forests could use a lot more.

Still, state officials will take what they can get, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture doled out four grants of $250,000 each to fund a biomass boiler heating system at a prison in Florence; wood pellet production for wood heating stoves at a mill in Kremmling; biomass co-firing of a coal-fired power plant in Colorado Springs; and a biomass collection center and biomass heating system at the Boulder County Parks Department.

All four facilities will use or process trees cut down during wildfire mitigation projects dealing with the state’s massive mountain pine bark beetle epidemic that has left millions of acres of Colorado forests rust-red and on the way to becoming gray and lifeless.

Several Colorado towns, including Vail and Avon, are considering pursuing centralized biopower plants that would gasify chipped wood to produce hot water and electricity, and a Littleton-based firm is among the world leaders in producing portable biopower machines, although it’s sold none of the systems in-state. The Governor’s Energy Office is currently considering state grants for such projects.

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