Northwest Renewable News

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Senator Tester Spends Presidents’ Day in the Flathead Valley February 15, 2010

Filed under: Biomass,Montana,Renewable Energy Projects,Wood Products — nwrenewablenews @ 4:43 pm

Senator Jon Tester talks jobs and renewable energy in the Flathead Valley.

The Senator started his day at F.H. Stoltze Lumber in Columbia Falls. The mission? To learn more about a biomass energy project the mill is hoping to push forward.

It’s called the Woody Biomass Combined Heat and Power Project. It’s basically a facility that would us leftover wood projects to generate clean, renewable electric power for the Northwest.

Stoltze’s Vice President says it would create 13 new jobs, but also hold on to about 200 current jobs in the forest industry.

The lumber company needs about $54 million dollars to build the facility, but managers say the end results outweigh the initial investment. County Commissioners were there to back up the project.

“This is an instance where I would be wiling to take some risks, because I do think the economic vitality of the forest industry, which is vital for Flathead County, whether people know it, for lots of reasons depends on innovative thinking and use of the biomass that’s out there,” Flathead County Commissioner Joe Brenneman said.

After Stoltze, Senator Tester went on to the Flathead County Landfill to talk more renewable energy. He toured the Flathead Electric site that turns methane gas from the landfill into electric energy. As the trash rots, it produces gas containing methane. The methane is then captured, and used to generate renewable energy. Right now, the landfill’s “Gas-to-Energy Plant” creates enough power for about 900 homes, with the ability to expand.

“This may not be the first in the country, but it’s the first in Montana and I think that if people come here and look at this,it’s really impressive and we’re getting something from a resource that was a liability and make it into an asset,” Senator Tester said. “And that’s really what’s important and I think it’s one of those things that, if we can create a few jobs and make this country more energy independent, it’s a win win deal.”

While in the Flathead, Tester also met with Kalispell Mayor Tammi Fisher and spoke with the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce.

Maritsa Georgiou, KECI (TV)–Day-in-the-Flath/6365577


Plan for Shelton, WA biomass plant is great news for region

Filed under: Biomass,Renewable Energy Projects,Washington,Wood Products — nwrenewablenews @ 4:28 pm

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 –


Federal Biomass subsidies may get altered February 10, 2010

Filed under: Biomass,Legal/Courts,Oregon,Wood Products — nwrenewablenews @ 4:57 pm

U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio is seeking to have sawdust and wood shavings removed from a program that provides federal subsidies for biomass used to create energy.

In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, DeFazio said the subsidy program has resulted in mill by-products being sent to biofuel and pellet plants rather than to composite wood manufacturing plants.

With the subsidies, the value of sawdust and wood shavings has doubled, making them less valuable for manufacturing, DeFazio said. At the same time, it has driven up the cost for manufacturers needing those materials for their products.

Using taxpayer dollars to subsidize the transfer of biomass material currently used for higher-value products to lower-value processes goes against congressional intent, DeFazio said, and is having a devastating impact on the U.S. wood manufacturing industries.

His letter was also signed by Rep. Bob Latta, R-Ohio, and Rep. Travis Childers, D-Miss.

“Driving up input costs for the composite and wood manufacturing industries will negatively impact their ability to compete globally and could ultimately lead to the loss of thousands of jobs,” DeFazio wrote. “During a time of 10 percent national unemployment — with many state unemployment rates even higher — we can ill afford to lose additional family-wage, U.S. manufacturing jobs.”

The three congressmen asked the Department of Agriculture to temporarily freeze subsidies provided through the Farm Service Agency until the list of eligible materials excludes wood mill waste, scraps, sawdust, chips and shavings. They also asked Vilsack to ensure that finalized rules and regulations are in place before the program continues.

The wood manufacturing and composite industries support 21,000 family wage jobs, 350,000 indirect jobs and generate $7.9 billion in annual revenues, the letter said.

John Sowell, News Review


Oregon Farmers examine biomass crops and power generation

Local farmers Monday were invited to be involved in the renewable energy field, not only as producers of a crop that could be turned into a fuel, but also as owners of the power generation facility that would burn the crop to produce electricity.

The question is “are we going to be in the driver’s seat?” Randon Wilson, an attorney who specializes in forming agriculture co-ops, said. “We have to decide where we are in charge.”

Wilson told the group, gathered at the Boulevard Grange near Ontario, as members of a proposed co-op for production of biomass crops, they could own the whole process from farm to processing to generation, or they could just do a portion of it. That would include producing the biomass crop that would be turned into fuel or producing the crop and the processing facility that would turn the crop into pellets.

It would take about five months to construct a processing plant to make the pellets, Wilson said. Construction of a power plant will take 18 to 24 months, Renewable Ag Energy Inc. President Kirk Christensen said.

The meeting was hosted by representatives of Renewable Ag Energy, Inc., an Ontario company assisting a group of local farmers, Agri Energy Producers, to bring a new crop to Malheur County.

While there is more than one crop that would produce the biomass, the co-op proponents were mainly discussing high biomass sorghum.

The high biomass crops would be planted in late May. Irrigation and fertilizer applications would be similar to corn. It would be harvested in September or October. Chopped green, it would be hauled to a conversion facility, where it would be stored, dried, cubed and shipped.

Harvesting, hauling and processing costs will be absorbed by the co-op, Christensen said.

“We’re not playing the fuel market,” Christensen said.

The farmers would be paid for growing the crop and participate in the profits from the conversion plan and profits from the generation facility, he said.

“We can’t survive on just what is produced on the farm,” Wilson said. “We need more bites. We have to take a look at energy.”

It was estimated the power plant would support 17 to 20 family-wage jobs, Christensen said.

Choices include full integration, wholly owned by the farmers, or partial integration, linked with other joint ventures or investors, Wilson said. But, it becomes difficult when you mix producers and investors, Wilson said, because eventually there are tensions between the two interests.

“We would like to get the jump on creating a state-wide co-op,” he said, adding that different groups of growers could act as separate divisions.

Such a large co-op would give the producers a lot of clout, Wilson said.

“There is a significant market,” he said.

Wilson, Christensen and others were also meeting with representatives from state agencies this week to discuss the permitting processes, land-use and other regulation issues.

Larry Meyer, Argus Observer –


Mont. City and county seek funding for biomass project February 5, 2010

Filed under: Biomass,Co-Generation,Montana,Renewable Energy Projects,Wood Products — nwrenewablenews @ 8:30 pm
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Helena city commissioners signed on with Lewis and Clark County commissioners on Thursday to jointly pursue federal funding toward a possible biofuel energy project in the county on Thursday.

The county commissioners said Jan. 27 they would assemble an appropriations request for Montana’s congressional delegation in hopes of securing federal money for a possible project to use local trees to produce local energy.

The city commissioners then accepted a county invitation to join in on pursuing a planning grant for the project on Thursday, citing mutual interests.

The local biofuel project, possibly consisting of some sort of materials production plant and the installation of biomass boilers in certain city-county buildings, would primarily provide a use for millions of trees killed throughout the region by the pine bark beetle infestation.

“We have our own problems with (beetle-damaged trees on) the open lands that we’ve got — not enough to run a plant forever, but we’re interested in disposing of wood,” City Commissioner Paul Cartwright said.

“It makes sense to look at it area-wide. Can it be done? Because we’re all in the same valley whose problems we all suffer and whose benefits we all gain.”

Before completely jumping in, the city commissioners did make sure that the planning grant would include a feasibility assessment, to determine if the area has enough fuel to support the project, and a report on the possible level of air pollution from burning biomass to create heat or energy.

Sen. Jon Tester and Rep. Denny Rehberg both have previously told the Independent Record they would “absolutely” carry a funding request from the city or county for a biofuel project of some kind. Both the senator and the congressman, as well as city and county officials, have advocated looking into a smaller-scale production, not a full-fledged biomass energy plant.

At the Thursday meeting, though, the group said both Tester’s and Rehberg’s deadline is March 1 for such a proposal, leaving little time to prepare an appropriations request.

“We’ve addressed some of these questions just dealing with the dead wood on city open space,” said Cartwright, who admitted the county was still taking the lead on the proposal. “We’ve looked at how much can you take off without damaging the forest, how much you have to chip, how many dead snags you have to leave.

“I think for the city to go forward in a project like this, it’d have to meet those kinds of standards. We’re not going to mine the forest.”

Aside from possible fuel sources from public lands, the group also discussed recent interest voiced by non-industrial, private land owners as to making their pine bark beetle-damaged wood available to the project.

Trent Makela, Helena Independent Record


Bioenergy company to build plant in Shelton February 4, 2010

A Maryland-based company bioenergy company has plans to build in Shelton a $250 million plant that converts wood waste from logging into energy.

Gov. Chris Gregoire, ADAGE company officials and others are scheduled to announce details of the project Thursday afternoon at the Port of Olympia.

The biomass power plant is expected to support 275 direct and indirect jobs per year, generate enough renewable energy to power 40,000 homes and pump some $70 million annually into the local economy.

The plant will use green technology to ensure lower greenhouse gas emissions and water use than a traditional power plant, according to advance information about Thursday’s announcement.

John Dodge, The Olympian


Biomass option still on the table for Flathead Electric February 2, 2010

Filed under: Biomass,Montana,Utility Companies,Wood Products — nwrenewablenews @ 3:55 pm

Flathead Electric Cooperative managers say they have long been exploring the potential for the development of a biomass cogeneration plant, but so far it has penciled out as the most expensive source to meet future power needs.

With the recent closure of the Smurfit-Stone container mill in Frenchtown, there has been a renewed interest in biomass cogeneration in the Flathead to serve as an alternative and productive destination for the region’s wood-waste products.

Chuck Roady, vice president of F.H. Stoltze Land & Lumber Co., outlined plans to build a cogeneration plant at the company’s sawmill facility west of Columbia Falls during a recent panel discussion at Flathead Valley Community College.

Roady said one of the biggest obstacles to the project is the relatively high cost of continually gathering biomass material to power the plant.

“We have the same interests as Chuck does in biomass,” said Kenneth Sugden, the cooperative’s general manager. “We’ve worked with Stoltze for about three or four years.”

It is true that the co-op will be faced with the need to meet a rising curve in future power loads because hydropower from the Bonneville Power Administration has been capped. The problem is that simply having BPA purchase power from other sources to meet power needs over the next 17 years would cost about half as much as the cost of local biomass generation.

The co-op estimates that adding a 15 megawatt biomass cogeneration plant to the local power grid would lead to electricity rate increases of more than 12 percent.

But Sugden stressed that the cooperative’s board of directors has never shut the door on the possibility.

“One of the misconceptions we hear is that our board has voted [on biomass cogeneration] and it hasn’t,” Sugden said. “Our board has said all along that we are interested.”

He said the board has instructed management to pursue all kinds of alternative energy sources. There is a state-directed goal of having 15 percent of the co-op’s power coming from renewable sources by 2015.

Sugden said the co-op worked with Plum Creek Timber Co. on a potential biomass cogeneration plant for several years, but the company suspended those plans in early 2008.

Now the Stoltze project has taken on a higher profile, largely because of the closure of the Frenchtown pulp mill.

“This has become a big issue and people want to talk about it,” said Mark Johnson, the utility’s assistant general manager. “It has become a more popular item.”

Johnson and Sugden said they will meet with Roady for more discussions on how to make biomass cogeneration more economically feasible.

“We’ve got to either make the project smaller or we have to get the costs down,” Sugden said, acknowledging that some form of government subsidy could advance the project.

Johnson said there currently are better government tax incentives and grant programs available for solar and wind energy projects than there are for biomass projects.

“If it were treated on par with solar and wind … it would be able to lower the cost of the Stoltze project,” Johnson said.

Solar and wind have won political favor because they are carbon-free energy sources. While biomass advocates maintain it is a “carbon-neutral” energy source, it is not considered to be as clean as wind and solar.

Johnson noted that wind and solar have the drawbacks of not being consistent sources of power and they are not likely to be significant energy sources in Northwest Montana. He said it is obvious to the co-op’s board that the region has abundant timber resources.

“For us, it is the major renewable in our area,” he said.

Sugden and Johnson acknowledged that many people would consider a 12 percent power rate increase to be palatable, particularly if it helped save jobs and the wood-products industry.

However, they said the board must account for the people who could not afford such an increase, particularly during an economic recession. Electricity rates already are slated to go up 3 to 5 percent this spring, an increase that the co-op incurred in October but intentionally deferred over the winter months.

“We have seen an incredible increase in people having a hard time being able to pay their bill,” Sugden said.

Johnson added that the co-op’s billing department is “talking to people they’ve never had to talk with before.”

They said the board must find “a balance” in new energy sources and affordability.

JIM MANN, The Daily Inter Lake –