Recycling Waste Wood Into
Burney Forest Power together with Fruit
Growers Supply help keep the area in jobs and energy
By Kurt Glaeseman
may not sound like a glamorous role, but Burney Forest Power (BFP) is proud to
be a successful bottom feeder on the wood food chain. BFP is one of three
biomass plants operating an hour east of Redding, Calif., near the small town of
Burney. This is ideal timber country, with an abundance of wood residue from
logging, sawmills, thinning, and the occasional catastrophe like the Fountain
Fire of 1992. Bob Allen, Fuel Supply Manager for the plant, helped develop BFP
in 1989 and watched it grow to its present state of efficiency. “This biomass
plant,” he says, “is a Forest Management Specialist’s dream-come-true.” The
figures are remarkable. BFP burns on the average 65 truckloads of chips per day,
producing 31 megawatts per hour for Pacific Gas and Electric. That’s enough
electricity for 36 homes per month or 34 to 38 thousand homes per year. In a
true cogeneration plant, a second viable product must be produced; in this case
steam is sold to Shasta Green, the sawmill next door. Then of course there are
still some valuable by-products like fly ash, which is sold as an amendment to
neutralize acidic soil on nearby ranches. Even the bottom ash, which looks like
coarse beach sand, is used for on-site road surfacing. According to Allen, the
biomass concept became a reality as a result of the Public Utilities Regulatory
Act of 1978. The federal government saw the need to diversify the energy base
and encourage the big public utilities to purchase energy from smaller utilities
like Burney Forest Power. Today PG&E buys all the BFP electricity, creating a
stable market for the 14-yearold company.
Manager Bob Allen at Burney Forest Power.
Feeding the Machine
Allen is always on the lookout for wood residue that can be turned into chips to
feed the insatiable plant. Some is acquired from the neighboring sawmill in
exchange for BFP-supplied steam, but most has to come from the forest. “Of
course we don’t want sticks and dirt and rocks that clog up the machinery,” says
Allen, “but if you have golf ball sized chips or smaller, bring them on.”
Currently a large percentage of the chips come from thinnings on private land
owned by Fruit Growers Supply (FGS). This large landowner has been a strong
presence in the area for almost a century. Originally a supplier of wooden
packing boxes for California fruit growers, the company found they had trouble
getting lumber after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Rather than fight in the
marketplace, the company simply went out and acquired vast tracts of timberland
to ensure a source of box material. When wooden boxes were replaced with
corrugated cardboard, Fruit Growers Supply simply changed their timber focus:
They would produce big logs for the lumber market.
The company still owns about 20
thousand acres near Burney and about a half million acres spread out over
California. The working relationship between BFP and FGS is a harmonious one.
Daryl Conover, himself a Biomass Forester, represents FGS in the sale of chips.
He and Allen oversee the ongoing annual contract between the two companies, and
they coordinate production and transportation for their mutual benefit. The
chips can be of any species, although they run heavy to pine and fir, as Conover
prefers to leave oak stands for the wildlife. The primary source is from
thinning, and Conover likes to see the small stuff, once burned as waste in the
woods, chipped and hauled to BFP. His overall plan is to manage the forest for
the harvest of sawmill logs: “When we thin, we hope we are cutting trees that
would never have made merch logs.”
Conover sees the thinning process
as an exact science, with some stands requiring a second and closer thinning as
the trees mature. Both Allen and Conover stress the necessity of thinning to
create a healthy forest, a forest without the excessive fuel ladders that allow
a fire to rage out of control in the crowns of the trees. They both reference
the fire scars left on trees on the south side of Burney. “The high school and
the whole town was in danger of being engulfed,” explains Allen, “but because
the woods just outside of town had been thinned and cleaned, the fire could be
A Win for the Environment and
Conover and Allen agree that the present system of turning “thinned” waste wood
into chips and then hauling them to the co-gen plant has definite advantages for
both the overall environment and the local community. Ageneralized master plan
includes the following objectives:
• Reduce pollution from burning waste wood in the forest.
• Reduce fire hazards in clean or thinned forest tracts.
• Control tree density for maximum growth.
• Improve wildlife habitat.
• Improve water release and yields.
• Provide employment opportunities.
• Create a symbiotic relationship between timberland owners and producers of
And those goals have been
• The smokestacks at Burney Forest Power are monitored on a daily basis, and
pollution from them is almost nonexistent.
• Conover can show statistics to prove that carefully selected trees thrive
better after a judicious trimming.
• Populations of deer, squirrels and several species of raptors are up. • Tracts
that are closely monitored and worked can be simultaneously revised for drainage
• The two entities provide major employment income to the Burney community.
Twenty-six people are employed full time at BFP. FGS indirectly employs an even
greater number of workers. In addition to regular employees, FGS contracts out
some logging and thinning to area loggers who either bid or work from a solid
past track record. Trucking the chips to the biomass plant is also by contract.
Ten portable chippers are needed to keep BFP supplied, and each chipping side
has eight to 12 associated employees—skidders, chippers, truck drivers, water
truck operators— all of whom help spread the money out into the community. Most
of the thinning is done in a more conventional manner. You might see a Timbco
T425-D Hydro- Buncher and shears with a Quadco head. Conover likes the Timbco:
“We can use it efficiently for certain specialized tasks.”
But he also likes to watch the
smoothly operating Wolverine 3-Wheeler. Steep terrain is a factor in
thinning…and ultimately in trucking the chips out. Some road grades are so steep
a skidder is used to push the chip vans up to the side. And of course freezing
and thawing and rain and snow all have an effect on getting the product out of
the woods. But by and large, FGS tries to keep the chipping sides operating 12
months a year.
Staying Supplied in Chips
Burney Forest Power depends on FGS and other chip providers for a predictable
and reliable source of fuel. Since BFP buys “bone dry” chips, the fuel providers
have to schedule cutting and drying and chipping and hauling times to eliminate
hauling excess moisture, for which they do not get paid.
a chip van arrives at BFP, a one-gallon sample is retained in a ziplock bag, and
the contents are dried 18 hours at 200 degrees for moisture testing. If chips
are not consumed immediately, they are stockpiled and moved so that older
product is used first. Two “chip dozers” are kept busy pushing 5 cubic yard
loads into feeding position. A visitor to BFP usually comments on the two line
ponds, vaguely reminiscent of sawmill ponds from earlier logging history. The
purpose of these ponds is simple: For the first 30 minutes of rainfall, the
runoff water is collected and reprocessed or purified to prevent tannins and
other contaminants from being discharged into the surface water of the area.
Morbark 50/48 chipper
working with a CAT 515 (supplying logs)
BFP monitors water very carefully.
Demineralized water is necessary for prolonged turbine life, and it is critical
that a water test be conducted on every shift. Each shift requires three people
to run the power house—a lead operator, a power plant utility operator, and a
utility person who pushes fuel, takes care of ash, and does other tasks as
required. The lead operator works from a complex control panel from which he can
open or close all valves in the operation. He monitors the burning of the fuels
and ensures that a graph showing the minute-by-minute state of air quality is
recorded and backed up for future scrutiny. Even the most minute details of
operation are important to BFP.
Wolverine 3-Wheeler works
well on both flat and steep terrain.
For example, only 25 percent of
non-renewable fuel can be used to start up and shut down the plant, and so far
the company has not even come close to that limit. And thanks to the
electrostatic precipitators, the stacks are emitting virtually no pollution.
Residents of this forested community are pleased. The successful symbiotic
relationship established between BFP and FGS demonstrates how once wasted
thinnings from managed forestlands can help fuel the turbines for an
electricity- hungry world. Perhaps energy is neither created nor destroyed, but
it can certainly be regulated and released in harmony with enlightened forestry
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