A proposed JoCo Biomass Production Center could create rural jobs and energy independence by producing artificial fireplace logs from compressed wood materials.

A proposed JoCo Biomass Production Center could create rural jobs and energy independence by producing artificial fireplace logs from compressed wood materials.

"This is an idea that would not only show return for us, but for the rest of the nation," Josephine County Commissioner Dave Toler said.

The federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act offers incentives for clean energy production. Josephine County has found one business interested in building a plant to produce biomass fuels from Southern Oregon forests.

Toler said Cascade Locks-based Bear Mountain Forest Products, a national leader in woody biofuel manufacturing, wants to become the "anchor tenant" in a proposed bio-energy and wood product campus in Merlin.

Bear Mountain wants to manufacture biomass bricks, artificial logs made from compressed wood materials, at the proposed plant.

Construction could generate up to 50 short-term and 18-20 long-term jobs with up to nine offsite workers harvesting, processing and transporting woody material.

The company estimates the average home would save $600 a year on energy by using bricks for heating instead of electricity.

Bear Mountain claims bricks burn cleaner than cord wood without creating smoke. One pallet of Bear Bricks equals a cord of firewood.

"This might not fix all of our problems," Toler said. "But it's a start."

It would take a $3.4 million to $4.6 million capital investment to build a plant that would produce about 18,000 tons of bricks annually. Toler said funding would come from a mix of public and private capital and grants and loans.