Advancing Biomass Combined Heat and Power Technology to Support Rural California, the Environment, and the Electrical Grid

Using forest biomass to heat and power Plumas County facilities and prevent catastrophic wildfires.

Sierra Institute for Community and Environment


Taylorsville, CA

Recipient Location


Senate District


Assembly District



Amount Spent



Project Status

Project Update

Facility construction occurred in the first and second quarters of 2018, with all equipment installed and commissioning completed in June, 2018. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held in April, 2018, which included participants from the Sierra Institute, Plumas County, US Forest Service, community advocates, project developers, and the Energy Commission. Over the summer and early fall of 2018, Sierra Institute secured a steady fuel supply and trained County technicians to operate the system. The system was operated over the heating season from the fall of 2018 through the spring of 2019.

The Issue

Communities in the colder high Sierra regions of California often experience peak electrical loads during the winter due to a reliance on electric resistance heating, heat pumps with poor performance, and fuel switching from oil and propane to electricity when fossil fuel prices spike. These regions are also prone to catastrophic wildfires due to overstocked forests that exacerbate drought conditions. Electric and thermal energy from forest biomass clearing operations offer a unique opportunity to reduce peak loads using local renewable resources.

Project Innovation

This project is deploying a biomass-fired combined heat and power system to provide heat and power to Plumas County health facilities. Biomass from local forest clearing operations will be used by a new biomass boiler to supply heat to an Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC) power unit. Waste heat from the ORC will be used as a heat source for heat pumps, improving their performance for the winter heating season.

Project Benefits

This project will link emerging technology with opportunities to advance renewable energy, distributed generation, and clean energy job creation. The first-of-its-kind project combines a biomass-fired boiler with an Organic Rankine Cycle electric generator that diverts waste heat to source heat pumps, supplying economical heat and power to a community-scale entity currently experiencing high energy costs. The project will help sustain a market for locally-sourced, sustainable forest biomass, providing jobs to the community and helping to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires that threaten transmission infrastructure and public safety.

Lower Costs


By generating up to 35 kilowatts electricity and using 400 kilowatts (thermal) to supply heat pumps, the Plumas County Health and Human Services center will reduce its energy costs (electricity plus propane) by $50,000 per year.

Environmental & Public Health

Environmental Sustainability

Burning biomass in a controlled setting rather than in the field will result in reductions of pollutant emissions (including CO2, NOx, VOC and CO).

Greater Reliability


Electricity reliability will be enhanced by decreasing consumption of grid electricity during winter peak periods.

Increase Safety


Safety will be improved by reducing both the risk and destructiveness of wildfires in forest communities by removing up to 815 tons of forest waste biomass per year.

Energy Security

Energy Security

Energy security is enhanced by deploying 35 kilowatts of distributed electricity with waste heat utilization that will reduce load on the local grid and decrease peak demand by as much as 205 kilowatts.

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