Posted March 10, 2022. Last updated May 16, 2022
The Department of Conservation received a $50M budget allocation in the FY21-22 budget – to be made available in July 2022 – focused specifically on creating carbon-negative hydrogen and/or liquid fuel from forest biomass. Funding awards will be made to sites located within the Sierra Nevada. These funds will be offered as a competitive solicitation; the DOC is working to make this solicitation live as soon as possible following fund availability (July 1, 2022, pending FY 22-23 budget approval). It is likely that a request for information will be advertised prior to the request for proposals to help in informing solicitation development. The DOC expects to work closely with both CARB and the CEC, as called out in the budget language, but also with sister agencies, boards, departments, and commissions that share similar goals and have aligned interest.
Fiscal Year 21-22 Budget Language
SB 155 (2021; Committee on Budget): SEC. 50: Upon appropriation by the Legislature, fifty million dollars ($50,000,000) shall be available in the 2022–23 fiscal year to the Department of Conservation, in coordination with the State Air Resources Board and the State Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission, for pilot projects in the Sierra Nevadas to create carbon-negative fuels from materials resulting from forest vegetation management. All eligible projects shall identify a California use of the hydrogen or liquid fuel to be created and have a lifecycle analysis of the carbon emitted and sequestered from the project, including any emissions from related transportation needs of bringing the feedstock materials to the facility and delivering resulting fuels and carbon dioxide to its end uses. The Department of Conservation shall notify the Joint Legislative Budget Committee of proposed projects to be funded 30 days prior to the funds being issued.
Public “Request For Information” Workshop
In order to learn more about the project variables and opportunities currently available and/or in practice, the DOC held a “request for information” (RFI) workshop on April 5 and again on April 7. The objectives of the workshop were:
- Receive input from potential applicants and the public regarding allocation of the Pilot Forest Biofuels Gasification Program funds;
- Share current information from state agencies regarding the expenditure of these funds; and
- Understand potential environmental justice and community priorities associated with implementation of this pilot program.
A video recording of the April 5 workshop is available at Forest Biofuels Gasification Pilot Program: Webinar Recording.
If you have questions and were not able to attend the workshop, or have additional input you’d like to provide, we welcome your written comments. These may be sent to Elizabeth Betancourt (elizabeth.betancourt @ conservation.ca.gov).
Program Fact Sheet – Department of Conservation's Pilot Forest Biofuels Gasification Program Funds – March 2022
Download this DOC Forest Biofuels Gasification Program Fact Sheet as a PDF document
While early in the process, this fact sheet is meant to provide stakeholders a snapshot of the effort to date and expectations of what is to come.
The Department of Conservation received a $50M budget allocation in the FY21-22 budget – to be made available in July 2022 – focused on creating carbon-negative hydrogen and/or liquid fuel from forest biomass coming from forest vegetation management. Funding awards will be made to sites located within the Sierra Nevada. The impetus behind this program is to address serious and significant issues of forest health and wildfire risk in the Sierra Nevada, as well as to provide a model for sustainable rural economic opportunity. The rates and severity of catastrophic wildfire have been growing throughout the Sierra, costing lives and damaging habitat, watershed health, financial resources, homes, and communities. Further, the impact of wildfire smoke has been felt around the state, worsening air quality in many areas that can least afford it. This pilot program focuses on the Sierra with the hopes of addressing these high-profile needs.
Projects funded under this program are expected to be fully supported by the communities that (will) host them, sponsored by project proponents, local governments, tribes, and community advocates. While the program is not closed to any particular stakeholders or industries, community support and participation in the proposed project is mandatory, and community leadership is encouraged.
These funds will be offered through a competitive solicitation; the DOC is working to offer this solicitation in 2022, consistent with the dire need for forest management and wildfire risk mitigation. The DOC is working closely with sibling agencies, boards, departments, and commissions – including federal agencies – with aligned interest.
Program Timeline and Public Input:
These funds will be offered as a competitive solicitation. Following the RFI Workshop and Tribal outreach, the DOC will develop the draft solicitation and make this available for public review. This is expected to occur in late May 2022. The public comment window will be 30 days, after which the DOC will respond to public comments and incorporate edits as appropriate. The final solicitation is expected to be made live in July/August.
Summary of public input opportunities:
- Public RFI workshop (April 5, 2022);
- Tribal RFI workshop (open to tribal citizens and representatives only; April 7, 2022);
- Draft solicitation review (estimated May-June 2022); and
- Project development and CEQA process (on the schedule of each individual project).
Carbon Negative Biofuels:
The 21-22 budget language prescribed the development of carbon-negative liquid fuels or hydrogen as a product of projects funded under this program. The term “carbon negative” means that less carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses (CO2 equivalent, or CO2e) are emitted to the air in the development of these biofuels than are sequestered or avoided by the process.
The DOC anticipates that the geologic sequestration of CO2 (often identified as “carbon capture and sequestration,” or CCS) coming from biofuels development is likely to be a pathway to reach carbon negativity, and hopes to hear more at the RFI workshop about other proposed pathways to reach permanent, verifiable carbon negativity.
Questions for RFI Workshops
Download these RFI Workshop Questions as a PDF document
These questions have been developed by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and collaborating state agencies as they have come up in conversation about the development of this solicitation. No project proponent should feel obligated to answer all questions, or even any of them: these questions represent specific issue and policy areas where the DOC is seeking information to help in guiding solicitation development. The supply of answers to these questions – or not – does not affect the eligibility of any project proposal or applicant in any way.
- What is the appropriate boundary for the Sierra Nevada?
- We expect 100% of project operations to be within the state of California, and as much of the project as possible to happen within the Sierra Nevada. Are there locational or logistical considerations that deserve additional flexibility?
Award phasing and ranking:
- Is award phasing appropriate for this solicitation?
- If award phasing is appropriate, what is the appropriate amount of time to give applicants in Phase 1 to prepare for Phase 2?
- What might be the key review criteria (e.g., technical merit, workplan, market transformation plan, team and resources, financial, regional economic benefits, environmental justice, etc.) used to evaluate priority projects for Phase 2 implementation (differentiating from Phase 1)?
- Given similar proposals in different parts of the Sierra, what other priorities should be considered in the proposals?
- What is the appropriate technological maturity for individual components and/or integrated systems of supported projects? Should the solicitation incorporate formal references to the
Department of Energy's Technology Readiness Assessment Guide, available at https://www.directives.doe.gov/ terms_definitions/ technology-readiness-level?
- Is there a particular size facility we should expect (e.g.: throughput and/or production capacity)?
- Should facilities be designed to process a minimum amount of forest biomass tonnage annually for a project to be eligible for funding?
- What kind of certification should be required to ensure that these projects are carbon negative?
- What impact does the certification requirement have on the suite of carbon negative approaches considered by project proponents?
- How should the project consider non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions?
- What emission sources or carbon flows should be included in the life cycle system boundary? Should avoided emissions be limited to anthropogenic CO2 removals with high certainty of permanence? Should avoided emissions in the forest ecosystem be included (e.g., carbon uptake due to forest re-growth; emissions from wildfire or decay of residues left in place; displacement of fuels or products)—and if so, which should be considered anthropogenic? How should uncertain, probabilistic future conditions, such as drought and wildfire, be accounted for in the assessment?
- What accounting time frame should be considered—1 year? 10 years? 100 years? Variable depending on forest characteristics or management strategies?
Budgetary and financial:
- Due to the size and complexity of these projects, match is expected to be necessary to complete a successful project. While we don’t expect to “require match,” per se, we want to be sure that those additional funding sources are adequately secured to assure a successful project.
- What requirements should be in place to verify match funding sources?
- What other funding types and sources – grants, loans, state, federal, etc. – should be eligible to be leveraged to achieve a fully funded and implementable project?
- Conversely, are there any complementary programs that should be ineligible?
- Should grants administered under this program be restricted to certain eligible expenses or activities (e.g. capital expenditures)? If so, should this requirement change between Phase 1 versus Phase 2 applications?
- What kind of proof of biomass supply and/or offtake agreements might be available, and what should we expect to see to ensure that only projects with high potential success are funded? Are there existing examples of this requirement for proof that would be appropriate to follow?
- Should “outside-the-fence” carbon negative efforts, such as sequestration activities related to carbon transportation and sequestration permitting/infrastructure, be included as eligible cost-share expenses?
- What does success look like for meeting community interests and public health priorities? Are there prior programs that are model examples?
- We welcome strong participation from California Native American Tribes through this program. Please share any information on existing tribal activities or interests relevant to this program.
- How should we maximize outreach and community feedback for each project?
- What best practices will help ensure these projects are part of – or create – economic development opportunities for the communities in which they're located?
- What kind of assurances should be in place to make the most of the public safety benefits that could be achieved with these projects?
- We expect local governments (cities and counties) to demonstrate interest in these projects and will require a letter of support with quantifiable metrics demonstrating that support. Knowing that some local governments simply have much lower capacity for these types of projects, what types of quantifiable support should we consider as meeting the threshold (e.g.: facilitation and outreach support, zoning considerations, permitting support, etc.)?
- Are there existing draft or final CEQA/NEPA documents (e.g., environmental assessments and/or environmental impact statements) for similar or related proposals that could inform the program?
- How can the State ensure that treatments funded by this project achieve fuels reduction while still maintaining other ecosystem services on which the surrounding community and environment rely?
- And how should the State and local government(s) ensure that the stated objectives are being met?
- Given that fuel reduction treatments provide fire risk reduction for a limited time, how should this program ensure the continued forest health past the treatments’ lifetime in a sustainable, ecologically sound, way?
- Responding to the negative impacts of climate change through adaptation and mitigation actions requires diverse management strategies, forest structures, and species compositions: how can this program ensure the necessary diversity?
- What types of vegetation management should be considered as ecologically sustainable sources of biomass feedstocks?
- How should the State measure multiple benefits from these treatments, beyond just fuels reduction?
- How should externalities (cobenefits and disbenefits) factor into project evaluation and selection?
The implementing agencies – the DOC and all collaborating state agencies – are interested in any and all input, feedback, and insights into this process. Is there anything missing from this list? Are there any implementation considerations particular to project site communities? Other things that have been missed? We look forward to your participation in the RFI workshop and also welcome your written comments. These may be addressed to: Elizabeth Betancourt, Natural and Working Lands Policy Advisor, at elizabeth.betancourt @ conservation.ca.gov.