Helena Independent Record: Biomass project gets federal funds

A Lewis and Clark County biomass project is making headway in obtaining federal funding.

This year’s Energy and Water Appropriations Act passed the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday. The legislation would provide $800,000 for the Tri-County Biomass Pilot Project, which would use woody biomass produced in Lewis and Clark, Jefferson and Broadwater counties to create renewable energy for the city of Helena. The three counties yield about 350,000 tons of biomass a year, from sources like dead trees.

The bill would provide all of the funding the county had requested for the project, which Sen. Jon Tester said is an indication of how good the proposal was.

“It makes sense for the region,” he said. “It makes sense for the country.”

Tester is part of the subcommittee that drafted the bill. He said the project is ideal because it creates jobs and addresses the concerns related to the number of trees that have been killed by pine bark beetles. If nothing is done about the dead trees, he said, they can put watersheds at risk and cause wildfires.

“There’s no doubt about what happens to the trees,” he said. “The trees will burn.”

The project is also timely, Tester said, since the Smurfit-Stone plant in Frenchtown that closed last winter had used biomass harvested in the past.

Tester’s proposed Forest Jobs and Recreation Act includes efforts to look into creating more biomass facilities in the state.

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