Plans are under way to build a $250 million biomass plant near the Shelton Airport with an objective of turning 600,000 tons of wood debris into enough electricity to power 40,000 homes.
A joint venture of Duke Energy and a global energy firm called Areva has a long, long way to go to get the plant off the ground, but it’s exciting to think about the potential to turn mounds of leftover logging debris — stumps and tree limbs — into electrical energy.
We’re a little surprised that company officials rolled out the project without firm contracts with timber companies for the woody debris or contracts with electrical companies to purchase the power generated from the biomass plant. But make no mistake, we’re excited at the possibility of a new source of alternative energy in South Sound.
Today, after a logging company moves through a stand of trees, the remaining woody debris is generally pushed into huge piles that are burned. So-called slash burns pollute the air and pose a serious health risk for individuals suffering from breathing problems. Slash burns are a terrible waste of natural resources. There’s increased pressure from regulatory agencies to reduce slash burning to protect air quality.
State lawmakers and Peter Goldmark, commissioner of public lands, recognized that fact, and are proceeding with a handful of pilot projects to turn logging debris into energy. The state is proceeding with those test projects, but the joint venture involved in the Shelton project is proceeding on its own and is not part of the Department of Natural Resources pilot project.
At the launch announcement in Olympia recently, officials said they hope to break ground by late this year on the power plant on Port of Shelton property near the airport.
The first order of business is to lock up contracts with suppliers of woody debris. “We’re contacting all the major landowners within 50 miles of the plant site,” said Reed Wills, president of the energy startup firm, Adage LLC.
One of the major timber companies in the Shelton area — Green Diamond Resource Co. — is in talks with Adage about supplying feedstock for the plant. “We’re very interested in a biomass plant in our community,” said Patti Case, public affairs manager for Green Diamond, which traces its linage to Simpson Timber Co., founded in 1890 by Solomon Simpson in the tiny town of Matlock.
Adage officials said the power plant would be built to produce 55 megawatts of electricity.
After suppliers are lined up, the next step is to garner environmental and land use approval, then enter into contracts with electrical suppliers willing to purchase the alternative power at competitive prices.
On the environmental front, Adage officials have had preliminary talks with officials at the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency that regulates emissions.
“We’ve had discussions with the company, but they haven’t applied yet for a permit,” said Fran McNair, executive director of the clean air agency. She said the equipment the company plans to use to control emissions appears to meet the agency’s emissions requirements because it is the best available technology.
Community and political leaders were quick to praise the woodwaste-to-energy plan because it’s expected to generate 700 direct and indirect jobs during the two-and-a-half year construction.
The daily operation would require about 100 employees collecting and transporting the woody debris with another couple dozen workers operating the plant.
“There’s a great labor force here — ready, willing and able to work,” said state Rep. Fred Finn, a Democrat whose district includes Mason County.
“This is part of the next chapter in the forest products industry,” said Mason County Commissioner Lynda Ring Erickson.
We would hope the energy company would have little trouble lining up contracts with public utility districts or other energy suppliers who need to add to their inventory of alternative energy sources.
Initiative 937, which was adopted by Washington voters in the 2006 general election, requires PUDs and electrical companies with more than 25,000 customers to focus on conservation and produce certain percentages of alternative energy by specific target dates. The Shelton plant will fill that requirement.
The plan to turn renewable natural resources into energy — energy that reduces both our dependence on foreign oil and reduces greenhouse gas emissions — is a real plus and should be embraced by the entire South Sound.
The Olympian – http://www.theolympian.com/opinion/story/1138259.html