U.S. Sen. Mark Udall said the Gypsum biomass power plant is a “win, win, win” project when he and State Sen. Gail Schwartz toured the plant’s construction site last week.
The Gypsum biomass plant is the first of its kind in Colorado and is on schedule to go online this December. The “woody” biomass plant will produce 11.5 megawatts of electricity per hour by burning dead timber and thinnings collected mostly from the White River National Forest. That main fuel source will be supplemented by other sources, such as wood construction waste that normally goes to the landfill. Of the 11.5 MW, 10 MW will be sold to Holy Cross Energy through a 20-year agreement and 1.5 MW will power the plant itself.
“When this goes online it will put us over the top of our goal to have 20 percent of our power coming from renewable energy by 2015,” said Holy Cross CEO Del Worley. “This will put us at around 22 or 23.5 percent renewable energy.”
Udall, who serves on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, touted the public-private project as a fine example of how to bolster the economy and help the environment while generating domestic power.
“It’s a carbon-neutral, renewable energy source, it mitigates forest wildfire, it creates about 100 jobs in total and it’s going to be profitable,” Udall said. “There’s nothing wrong with profit – profit leads to reinvestment.”
Eagle Valley Clean Energy LLC – a subsidiary of Evergreen Clean Energy Corporation – is the company behind the Gypsum plant, which will get the bulk of its fuel for from West Range Reclamation LLC. West Range is a forest and land management company in Hotchkiss that was recently awarded a long-term stewardship contract with the U.S. Forest Service. West Range will receive $8.66 million through the 10-year contract. The company will remove trees susceptible to insect and disease infestations from the White River National Forest while the Gypsum biomass plant will receive some of that material as fuel to generate electricity.
“The stewardship contract is at the heart of this,” Udall said. “It’s a beautifully fulfilling relationship.”
Schwartz said Colorado is 37th in the nation for utilizing biomass power but it is the No. 1 producer of biomass fuels.
“We have 4 to 6 million acres of standing dead timber in our state,” she said. “We have 175,000 slash piles in Colorado that we will burn anyway. This biomass plant will help clean our forest and mitigate wildfires as well as create jobs and electricity.”
Udall said the biomass plant is a market-based solution.
“[Eagle Valley Clean Energy] is bringing value to forest slash and waste,” he said.
Udall said the plant is carbon-neutral because the wood fuel contains carbon that is already in the environment.
“It’s circulating, unlike coal, which is mined,” he said.
Udall added that the biomass plant is “state of the art” in terms of its filtration and monitoring systems for pollution.
Dean Rostrom, a principal of EVCE, said electrostatic precipitators will filter almost 100 percent of the ash from the burning wood fuel before it makes it into the air.
“That smoke stack will look about the same when it’s operational as it does today – you won’t see anything coming out of it,” Udall said.
Rostrom confirmed Udall’s statement that the company uses the latest technology to control emissions.
“We exceed all air permit requirements,” he said.
The Gypsum plant will burn about 250 tons of wood a day.
Rostrom said he thinks it makes sense to build more biomass plants in Colorado but there are several factors that have to align.
“It’s a balancing act between an economy of scale and environmental sensitivity,” he said. “To date, most biomass proposals in Colorado have been 100 MW operations but they would consume too much [to be environmentally balanced].”
Pam Motley of West Range Reclamation said it is important to find markets that are close to the wood source.
“So much of the cost of wood is transporting it,” she said. “Markets need to be within 100 miles or it’s not economical and it’s not as carbon neutral because you’re trucking it so far.”
That’s one of the reasons that makes Gypsum’s plant a good fit for the area – it’s proximity to the WRNF.
“With modern mega-fires becoming a growing problem that threatens Colorado communities, our precious water supplies and our way of life in the West, we need to use every tool we have to reduce wildfire risks,” Udall said. “The Gypsum biomass power plant shows how we can reduce wildfire risks, create jobs and generate renewable energy sources. This biomass power plant also underscores the urgency for renewing the U.S. Forest Service’s Stewardship Contracting Authority by passing a Farm Bill. If Congress does not stand with me and act, job-creating public-private partnerships like this will grind to a halt.”