A woody biomass power plant is one step closer to becoming a reality in Gypsum after Tuesday's town council meeting.
Members of Eagle Valley Clean Energy LLC presented their plans and asked the council to approve an annexation for a 94-acre parcel directly east of the American Gypsum wallboard plant along the Eagle River.
With council members Dick Mayne and Tim McMichael absent, the rest of the group passed a resolution to initiate the annexation but tabled a vote on the final proceedings until Feb. 28.
If everything goes as planned, the relatively small power plant would only occupy the west end of the property, potentially leaving the rest for open space, and would be operational by 2014. A woody biomass plant burns a variety of wood - "forest waste, agricultural waste and clean urban wood" - to create electricity.
"Colorado has needed something like this for a long time and this plant would be among the first in the state, maybe the first," said Bill Carlson of EVCE. Carlson is the principal of Carlson Small Power Consultants, and has started biomass plants all over the country. He said the west coast is currently the heaviest user of biomass energy, with about 45 in California.
Per year, Gypsum's plant would produce a gross of 11.5 megawatts and be able to sell 10 megawatts to Holy Cross Energy after using 1.5 megawatts to power itself. A 20-year electricity sales agreement with Holy Cross is already worked out, said Dean Rostrom of EVCE.
"So far, we have a power purchase agreement completed, a site secured and fuel supply studies finished," Rostrom said.
Rich Stem, formerly with the U.S. Forest Service and now a consultant with EVCE, said the power plant would require about 1,200 acres of forest per year as a fuel supply. The fuel would be collected deadfall and thinnings that would mostly be chipped on site and hauled to the plant in trucks. None of the fuel would be sourced from sensitive areas such as designated wilderness or roadless areas.
"We are targeting a 50- to 75-mile haul radius from Gypsum," Stem said. "There is plenty of forest fuel available, in terms of dead wood. If we had more of these plants, it would go a long way toward cleaning up the forest. The Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and the state would like to treat 15,000 to 20,000 acres of forest a year if it was feasible."
Carlson said the location right next to American Gypsum would be a good thing.
"The juxtaposition is beneficial because the heat produced by the biomass plant would go to American Gypsum, which needs it."
The gypsum plant would also lessen the visual impact of the biomass plant. The latter would be a fraction of the size of the gypsum plant -- 45,000 square feet compared to 345,000 square feet -- and it would produce a much smaller vapor plume.
Naturally, the town council members had questions about potential noise and air pollution as well as traffic concerns.
"Wood is a relatively clean material," Carlson said. "In terms of a carbon footprint, biomass plants are labeled 'carbon neutral,' meaning in this case that the carbon regrows as opposed to being taken out of the ground."
Ash produced by the wood burning is filtered and collected to be hauled away about once every two days. Only a minimal amount of ash escapes the filtering system, which literally captures 95.95 percent of it, Carlson said. The ash that does escape the filter is not visible and the ash that is collected would likely be sold as fertilizer.
The plant would also need about 250 acre feet of water per year.
"The boiler requires very clean water, so it would be treated on site at the plant and then go into the town's wastewater system afterward," Carlson said.
In terms of noise pollution, "there might be a steam release about once every six months that makes people turn their heads and go, 'What's that?'" Rostrom said.
The hauling operation to the plant would see about 11 to 14 truck and trailer containers per day on week days.
The plant would also create about 40 stable, long-term jobs with attractive wages, Rostrom said.
"What is nice about this is that it's not subject to market volatility (such as natural gas or construction)," he said.