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February 3, 2013
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Woolsey: 'We need more people in town'

GYPSUM, Colorado - Mac's Liquor is pretty quiet in the middle of the day - business starts to pick up in the late afternoon, when people start coming home from work. That's one reason store owner Peter Struve is looking forward to a new power plant being built in town.

That plant, being built by Eagle Valley Clean Energy LLC and financed in large part with $40 million in federal loan guarantees, will generate electricity by burning chipped wood, primarily from beetle-killed forests. That process, known as "biomass" generation, is classified as "renewable" energy, which is something Holy Cross Energy wants, since state law requires utilities to provide a significant portion of their power from renewable sources.

The plant - which will be just east of the town's wallboard plant, above the Eagle River and just southeast of the town's Interstate 70 interchange - is expected to generate about 11.5 megawatts of electricity every year. Eagle Valley Clean Energy will keep 1.5 megawatts for its own operations and sell 10 megawatts to Holy Cross.

Besides electricity, the biomass plant also will generate jobs. Construction is expected to create in the neighborhood of 100 jobs. A few of those jobs will be taken by specialists coming from outside the area - which means hotel nights in Eagle and restaurant meals in both towns. Most of the jobs, though, will be taken by local companies whose employees already live in the area.

After construction, the plant will have about 40 full-time employees, most of whom will be either current residents or will move into the area. In Gypsum, all of the above is a big deal.

"We're a bedroom community," Struve said. "That's why our restaurants struggle at lunch."

Struve said another 40 people spending their work days down valley will have an effect on those restaurants. It could also help diversify Gypsum's retail businesses.

"We have three liquor stores, three convenience stores and the grocery store right here - and Costco, of course," Struve said. "We could use some more retail."

A few blocks away, Danny Woolsey owns the Ekahi Grill, the town's Hawaiian restaurant. Woolsey said he's already seen some workers coming in for lunch from the plant. And that's a good thing.

"I'm looking forward to it," Woolsey said. "We need more people in town."

Gypsum Mayor Steve Carver owns Big Steve's Towing, which means he's often helping clean up messes on I-70. Carver said keeping people in town could help, at least a bit, with traffic safety.

And, Carver said, it's better for families to have parents working closer to home.

"We'd love to employ all the people we can in town," Carver said.

Beyond the prospect of having more residents actually working in town, Carver said it's also good to have at least some industry in the county. Right now, Gypsum, with its existing wallboard plant, is the only place in Eagle County where that's happening.

Struve said the issue isn't simply a matter of one kind of business or another but diversity in what kinds of businesses operate here.

"We depend so much on tourism," Struve said. "One down snow year can affect us for a few years after that. We need to make sure we can survive that."

All of that can help make a "well-rounded community," Gypsum Town Manager Jeff Shroll said.

"I think it's hard to find a negative about it," Struve said.

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Feb 3, 2013 05:13PM Published Feb 3, 2013 05:11PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.