The U.S. Forest Service awarded a total of $13.4 million to two Colorado companies on Monday and one of those stewardship contracts has positive implications for the Gypsum biomass plant.
West Range Reclamation of Hotchkiss will receive $8.66 million through a 10-year contract with the USFS. The company will remove trees susceptible to insect and disease infestations from the White River National Forest. The Gypsum biomass plant will receive some of that material as fuel to generate electricity.
"West Range will supply a lot of our fuel for the plant," said Dean Rostrom of Eagle Valley Clean Energy LLC. EVCE is the company building the biomass plant. "This is another important piece of the puzzle coming into place. We've been working on this for years."
Pam Motley, a public relations officer for West Range Reclamation, confirmed the company has been in discussions with EVCE for several years.
The biomass plant is expected to be operational late in 2013 and will produce 11.5 megawatts of electricity a year by burning wood material. Ten megawatts will be sold to Holy Cross Energy through a 20-year agreement. The remaining 1.5 MW will power the plant itself.
Most of the wood fuel for the plant will be collected from forest lands surrounding Gypsum in a radius of about 75 miles. The Eagle County Landfill has also agreed to donate its wood waste to the plant - which is anticipated to save the landfill $15,000 a year - and other county landfills might donate their wood waste as well.
"We have a letter of intent with the Garfield County Landfill and are in discussions with the Summit and Pitkin county landfills," Rostrom said. "There are some other private sources we're looking at as well."
White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said the biomass plant will be a good way to use material that the USFS is already collecting and burning in slash piles to mitigate fire danger and other hazards.
"Who would argue that lighting piles of slash in the forest is better than using it to create renewable energy?" he said.
Cal Wettstein, the acting deputy forest supervisor for WRNF and an expert on the pine beetle epidemic, said "there is no shortage of work to be done" in the forest.
He called the biomass plant "really efficient" and praised the operators as a "really good outfit."
Motley said West Range has done smaller projects for WRNF before that were similar. She said the removal work is "driven by the needs of the landscape" rather than the product.
"The Forest Service has identified areas for treatment and will mark the trees they'd like us to remove," she said. "The larger-diameter trees - anything larger than 6 inches - will go to Montrose Forest Products or Delta Timber to be used for lumber. EVCE will receive anything that's too small to make a 2x4 out of, as well as the trees that have been dead so long that their structure is compromised."
Fitzwilliams said most areas targeted for tree removal are along power lines, roads and campgrounds - anywhere they might pose an immediate hazard.
"The percentage of vegetation we manipulate is so tiny compared to the rest of the landscape. We actually have too many trees. None of the forests in Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and parts of South Dakota are suffering from too little wood."
Motley said removing targeted trees accomplishes ecological, economic and sociological goals.
"The long-term contract also means that we will likely expand our operation and hire people from the area where we are working," Motley said.
She said West Range currently has crews working all over Colorado and in southern Wyoming.
"We are honored to be awarded a long-term stewardship contract," she said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller contributed to this report.