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Biomass Project Could Provide Economic Boon In Tuolumne County

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Sonora, CA — Plans are underway by a non-profit to open a facility in Tuolumne County that will take in biomass, produce wood pellets, and then ship the products overseas to Asian markets where the demand is high.

Greg Norton, President of Golden State Natural Resources (GSNR) Corporation, was one of the speakers at today’s TuCARE Natural Resources Summit. Norton is also the President of the Rural County Representatives of California, of which Tuolumne County is a member.

GSNR was created in 2018 with the goal of improving the health of the forests, reducing wildfire risk, and helping local economies.

Initially, there will be two GSNR biomass sites in California, each employing 55-60 people. The cost to get them both up and running will be around $320-350-million. Funding will come from private investment and debt issuance.

Norton announced that one of the initial sites will be located on J-59, at an existing bark processing plant. He says, “We are purchasing the Keystone site here Tuolumne County from Sierra Pacific Industries. Later this afternoon I’ll be signing the closing statements on that. I want to publicly thank SPI for working with us and being very helpful through the process.”

As for the operations, contractors will help bring biomass to the facility, the wood pellets will be produced there, and they will then be sent out by rail to the ports along the coast.

Norton says, “The business concept is to match the current supply of biomass that we have in California, and we all know that we have quite a lot of supply, with the demand for wood pellets in Japan and other Asian countries. The use of biomass in place of coal is beginning to occur throughout the world. Many of the sites in Japan are already co-firing biomass with coal. And they have a number of others that have been certified for development that will be 100-percent biomass energy generation.”

He says the demand is booming in the Asian markets as they have requirements for using renewable fuels as part of the Kyoto Agreement and Paris Accord. Accessing the pellets is challenging in those countries because they have to meet certain environmental requirements.

Norton adds, “Frankly, the benefit of some of the high government regulations in those countries, matched with the governmental regulations here in California, is a win-win. It gives them a lot of comfort in knowing that things will be done the right way, it will be sustainable, and that is what they want to work with.”

Some details for the Tuolumne County site are still being developed, and there are permitting issues that still need to be finalized, but the hope is to being exporting pellets by 2023. Already in place is a 20-year Master Stewardship Agreement with the US Forest Service.

The organization plans to evolve over time and create additional products other than pellets.

Locally, Norton praised Stanislaus National Forest Supervisor Jason Kuiken, Tuolumne County Supervisor Sherri Brennan, CRA Director Quincy Yaley, Innovation and Business Assistance Director Cole Przybyla, former supervisor Randy Hanvelt and Sierra Cascade Logging President Mike Albrecht for help in getting the project to this point.

The TuCare annual summit is being held today at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds. There are some people on site in attendance, and over 50 others have been participating via the online website Zoom. Other speakers today are Stanislaus National Forest Supervisor Jason Kuiken, California Natural Resources representative Jessica Morse, and Undersecretary for the Forest Service, Jim Hubbard.