SONORA, Calif., July 26, 2023 – Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC) is proud to announce that funding is complete for the Heartwood Biomass project in Tuolumne County. Located on O’Byrne’s Ferry Road in Jamestown, California, the $14.5 million project is set to create 16 regular, full-time jobs and stimulate the local economy by supporting sustainable forestry practices.
The new facility, an undertaking of Heartwood Biomass through its wholly owned subsidiary Tuolumne Biomass LLC, embodies the transformative potential of biomass utilization. By manufacturing firewood bundles, wood chips and agricultural posts from forest restoration byproducts, the project converts potential wildfire fuel from unnaturally dense forests into valuable products. The site will also use biomass to generate its own heat and electricity, reducing dependence on non-renewable resources.
The story of the Heartwood Biomass project began nearly 10 years ago, when the 2013 Rim Fire burned over 250,000 acres in and around Yosemite National Park and the Stanislaus National Forest. In response, Tuolumne County and the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) applied for and received a $70.4 million National Disaster Resilience (NDR) grant from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to help the affected communities and lands recover and become more resilient to future fires. Working together with the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, RCAC, the state entity responsible for administering forest and watershed health and biomass utilization activities under the grant, created a $17 million Biomass Utilization Fund (BUF) to support projects that create good local jobs through the utilization of byproducts of forest restoration activities. The Heartwood Biomass project will receive $9.7 million from the BUF, one of two projects receiving funding in the initial funding round.
“The Heartwood Biomass project signifies our common dedication to fostering growth in historically underserved communities,” said Suzanne Anarde – Devenport, RCAC’s Chief Executive Officer. “By stimulating local growth and encouraging the conscientious use of resources, this project is paving the way for lasting rural prosperity.”
The project has also raised private capital from investors, including the asset management arm of Blue Forest, a California-based conservation finance group. Blue Forest invested in the project through its California Wildfire Innovation Fund as a long-term, value-added financing partner.
“We are excited to collaborate with Heartwood’s management and support the California expansion of one of the most innovative biomass utilization companies in the industry. Adding biomass processing capacity is critical to increasing the pace and scale of forest restoration – and Heartwood Biomass is a proven leader in promoting forest stewardship alongside sustainable livelihoods and community resilience,” said Zach Knight, Blue Forest Chief Executive Officer.
On the operational front, the Yosemite-Stanislaus Solutions (YSS) collaborative group will contribute to the project by supplying woody biomass from their Rim Fire remediation efforts. As site owner and lessor, T-Five Ranches provides the necessary foundation for the project at the site of a former gravel pit. Local logging contractor, Sierra Resource Management will be the lead partner for raw material supplies, contract logging and biomass transportation. Meanwhile, Mother Lode Job Training boosts the project’s economic impact by recruiting and training local workers for the project. Finally, Heartwood Biomass looks forward to working collaboratively with local forest products businesses and stakeholders, including Sierra Pacific Industries, American Wood Fibers, Pacific Ultrapower and Stanislaus National Forest.
Additionally, the project has received generous grant support from both CAL FIRE, through the Workforce and Business Development Grant Program, and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), through the Community Wood Grant Program, the combination of which will allow for a cutting-edge biomass energy system to be developed at the site.
Set to be operational by June 2024, the Heartwood Biomass project will serve as a model for sustainable development in Tuolumne County and beyond, offering a blueprint for future initiatives that balance economic progress with environmental conservation.
Founded in 1978, RCAC seeks to collaboratively build the capacity of organizations that serve low-income people living in the rural West (13 states including Alaska and Hawaii). RCAC works in partnership with small rural and Indigenous communities and other local agencies to provide tools and resources necessary to improve their quality of life. RCAC offers a wide range of services to communities with fewer than 50,000 people including technical assistance and training for environmental infrastructure; affordable housing development; economic and leadership development; and financing to support community development. Since its inception, RCAC’s dedicated staff and active board have helped affect positive change in rural and Indigenous communities across the West.
To learn more about RCAC, visit http://www.rcac.org
Julia Helmreich, director
Communications and Development