How the biomass operation would work |

How the biomass operation would work

Derek Franz
Eagle Valley Enterprise
Vail, CO Colorado

GYPSUM, Colorado – On Tuesday, Gypsum Town Council approved annexation, zoning and other agreements that prepare the way for a biomass power plant to be built next to the American Gypsum plant north of U.S. Highway 6.

Eagle Valley Clean Energy LLC is the entity behind the plan. It includes some Eagle County residents and Dean Rostrom, who has been the primary spokesperson for the group, which is based in Provo, Utah.

A biomass plant burns biological material to produce electricity. That is most commonly done by heating water with the burning material to produce steam, which turns a turbine that produces electricity, a process referred to as direct combustion. Biomass plants are most prevalent along the Pacific coast, and assuming it is built, Gypsum’s will be the first commercial-grade biomass power plant of its kind in Colorado.

In terms of its carbon footprint, Rostrom said a biomass plant is considered carbon neutral because its fuel regrows, as opposed to being mined like coal.

The Gypsum plant would burn wood, especially forest thinnings and waste, such as trees killed by pine beetles, agricultural waste and clean urban wood. The plant would not compete with logging for valuable wood.

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Wood would be collected in a 50- to 75-mile haul radius from Gypsum with a focus on closer areas. About 1,200 acres of forest would be needed per year for collection.

“The plant will be a long-term, unique and reliable outlet for hazardous-fuel reduction with strong support from federal, state and private forest managers,” Rostrom said.

As much as possible, the wood fuel would be chipped at the collection site before being sent to the plant. There is an economic motivation to have the wood chipped to do so.

“Otherwise, we have to handle it twice,” Rostrom said.

Approximately 11 to 14 trucks per weekday would haul the chips to the plant during business hours. The trucks would mostly be “enclosed, Walmart-style trucks” and not logging trucks, Rostrom said.

The wood would be stored in silos with a seasonal reserve pile stored uncovered on the property.

The plant would burn about 70,000 tons of bone-dry wood chips per year. Additionally, 100 to 200 acre-feet of water per year also would be needed. One acre-foot of water serves the needs of about 21⁄2 families of four for one year.

“It’s a good trade – water for 500 families traded for renewable electricity for about 10,000 homes,” Rostrom said.

The water would be used for steam production and cooling purposes. It must be very clean and would undergo a treatment process at the plant prior to being used. The used water would discharge from the plant as steam or go back into the Eagle River or to the Gypsum Wastewater Treatment Plant. Eagle Valley Clean Energy is awaiting a state permit for direct discharge into the river. About 100 acre-feet per year would be discharged into the river or wastewater plant. Gypsum town staff estimate the water-vapor plume (not hot enough to be considered “steam”) would be about 10 percent to 15 percent of the size of the American Gypsum plant’s vapor plume.

Most of the ash from the burning wood – 99.5 percent – would be filtered out of the air by “state-of-the-art, multiple-clone and electrostatic precipitator technology.” What escapes would not be visible. The collected ash – about a dump-truck load every few days – would be sold as fertilizer or sent to the landfill.

Noise pollution from the biomass plant is expected to be minimal, especially with most of the wood chipping performed off site. Lights would be minimal and down-turned, representative of the fact that only a couple of employees would be working at night.

Gypsum Town Manager Jeff Shroll and Town Planner Lana Gallegos recently toured woody biomass plants in Oregon.

“(Shroll) and I really wanted to see what the air, noise, lighting and pollution type of impacts there may be with these types of operations, and we felt they were pretty minimal,” Gallegos said, adding that town staff worked extensively with the applicant to improve the appearance of the plant facilities and create some additional screening to mitigate ground operations.

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