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March 2007

Wood waste to fuel biomass plant in Oregon

Oregon Governor Theodore Kulongoski announced in late January that construction should soon begin on a 13-megawatt biomass plant at Lakeview. The plant, using forest thinnings, juniper and waste generated from a sawmill as fuel, will create electricity via a standard steam generator.

The $20 million plant, to be built and operated by DG Energy Investments, will be directly adjacent to the Fremont Sawmill, which is owned by the Collins Company.

While this small plant in rural Oregon will only produce a minimal amount of the state’s annual electricity needs, the success of this generating station could pave the way for more in the future in Oregon, as well as the rest of the country.

“With the new laws in place and a new emphasis on renewables [energy], the hope is to have more plants,” says James Walls, the executive director of the non-profit Lake County Resources Initiative (LCRI). “In the past they have not been able to compete with coal and hydro in pricing, but that gap is narrowing very fast now. The hope is that more communities could have small plants to do this to help make forests healthier, reduce CO2 emissions from wild fires and displace fossil fuels so we are not so dependent upon them any more.”

The impact will affect the use of renewable wood resources, energy consumption, energy imports, and pollution and green house gas (GHG) emissions.

“We’re in a very rural area with a lot of timber and forest that is in bad shape,” says Walls. “We’re still working on long-term supply contracts and with the United States Forest Service and the Bureau of land Management (BLM).

“We’re also working for the state to pass an increase in the Business Energy Tax Credit (BETC) to make it work economically,” he adds. “The biomass plant is a pilot project under the governor’s Oregon Solutions Program, a program that covers multiple projects. As part of the biomass aspect, he chose us (LCRI) and put a team together.”

Hal Salwasser, the dean of forestry at Oregon State University, headed that committee, with former Lake County Commissioner J.R. Stewart serving as co-convener. They brought together state and federal agencies, environmental groups and industry, which brought DG Energy on board.

In many ways, the plant is linked with two pieces of legislation that the state is considering – extending BETC and a Renewable Energy Portfolio bill. BETC is a state business energy tax credit for building energy generating projects. The state offers a tax credit of 35 percent on projects up to the first $10 million.

The new bill would increase the percentage to 50 and raise the investment level to $20 million. Hearings on the proposal have just begun. On the Renewable Energy Portfolio, Walls points out that California, Washington, Idaho and Nevada already have already enacted similar legislation.

“Testimony will be held on this bill,” he says. “It is not completely drafted. It deals with establishing renewable energy standards to reduce oil consumption.”

Biomass can play a role in this initiative, which means putting the forests to work, which could benefit the people of the state in general, improve the health of the forests and the state’s economy, and increase government tax revenue.

In fact, the Warm Springs Indian Nation is planning to build a biomass plant that will utilize forest thinnings and urban waste from the Bend area.

Oregon has a healthy lumber industry and the state wants to improve its productivity and the health of the forests by removing flammable materials. The Bush administration signed legislation that allows more logging and clean-up operations to reduce the threat of forest fires.

The thinnings that are collected constitute a major renewable resource.

“Oregon’s forests, because of fire suppression and drought, have become very overstocked,” says Walls. “It’s not in a natural condition. We can restore it to more natural conditions by removing lateral fuels and returning it to a natural condition where natural forest fires can occur.

“Right now, if a fire occurs,” he adds, “there is so much fuel and volume because of past suppression and management that it just crowns out and we get fires such as the Biscuit Fire of 2002 and other gigantic fires.”

The Lakeview biomass plant was designed to fit its environment so it does not overtax the forest. Moreover, the design will allow for other materials to be burned, such as stems from alfalfa plants.

Because of its rural location, transporting construction and demolition waste, primarily wood, is uneconomical.
While such a plant can create controversy, this plant is being built with the approval of environmental community, including the Wilderness Society, Defenders of Wildlife and Oregon Wild, formerly the Oregon Natural Resources Council.

It was recognized that the United States Forest Service “had been cutting the forest too lightly and was not restoring it back to natural conditions. We also came to an agreement on what would be the appropriate size [of the plant].”

In addition to creating electricity for general use, the steam from the plant will be recycled and used to power the machinery at the sawmill. The old boiler at the mill will be taken off line, reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“Our technology will emit less pollution,” says Walls. “It’s a net benefit in total. In the year of the Biscuit Fire, the number one pollutant and creator of GHG in the state was wild fires. We’ve got to get those under control if we really believe we are going to stop global warming.”


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