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Battle over biomass heats up in Longview, Wash.

Published on June 28, 2011 3:01AM

Last changed on June 28, 2011 7:18AM


Longview Daily News via Associated Press

LONGVIEW, Wash. (AP) -- It's the largest biomass energy project proposed statewide, generating enough power for 2,400 homes.

Longview Fibre Paper and Packaging officials say their 54-megawatt biomass energy expansion also would reduce air pollution and the company's carbon footprint, plus make the mill more competitive.

But the project's leading opponent, No Biomass Burn, says it's the proverbial wolf in sheep's clothing -- dirty power masquerading as clean energy -- and part of a growing trend among aging pulp mills.

A trend the group hopes to squash, using Longview Fibre as the test case.

"Longview is ground zero in terms of environmental fights," Duff Badgley, coordinator for Seattle-based No Biomass Burn, said at a community meeting in Longview last week.

Burning wood waste, Badgley said, emits harmful particulates and high levels of greenhouse gases into the air. The Seattle-based group fought eight similar proposals statewide during the last two years -- two were abandoned -- and it's now setting its sights on Longview Fibre.

The stakes are high. For Longview Fibre, excess biomass power could generate millions of dollars in renewable power sales on the open market. While it's unlikely to add full-time jobs, the project could generate work for 25 to 50 contractors daily until its completion next year, company officials said.

The mill would also shut down other, less efficient wood-waste boilers, according to the company, which is not revealing the cost of the plant.

Longview Fibre is eligible for about $30 million in federal subsidies from federal stimulus money set aside for renewable energy projects.

Nationwide, other aging pulp mills, such as the 90-year-old Nippon Paper plant in Port Angeles, Wash., want to build similar wood waste power projects. For many mills, renewable energy is a key component to stay in business, biomass supporters say.

"The more economical we can make manufacturing in the United States, the more chance those jobs will stay here," said Dan Whiting, spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based National Alliance of Forest Owners.

Pulp and paper mills who want to build these plants face a 2014 deadline. That's when a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency three-year moratorium on regulating biomass plants for greenhouse gas emissions expires. Failure to meet that deadline could cost energy producers millions or kill the projects altogether.

Longview Fibre is already moving forward, but the company may not be out of the regulatory woods.

The state Department of Ecology approved the company's permit application on June. The company began pouring concrete for the foundation earlier this month, company spokeswoman Sarah Taydas said. Longview Fibre barely beat a July 1 deadline to start construction, which could have sent them on a longer and costlier regulatory path.

Badgley said No Biomass Burn plans to appeal the permit this week to the state's Pollution Control Hearings Board, then to superior court if necessary. He said Longview Fibre should be required to conduct a more thorough study of the project's environmental impact.

Badgley said he helped defeat a proposed $250 million, 55-megawatt biomass energy project in Shelton, Wash. Plant developers Areva and Duke Energy said they abandoned the project earlier this year because it would cost too much to gather enough waste wood for fuel.

But Badgley said local citizens' opposition was the key reason, and he's trying to build grassroots support in Longview -- which is off to a slow start. At last week's community forum, nearly all of the 10 attendees were Longview Fibre supporters.

Despite the poor showing, Badgley said he plans to come back this summer because the outcome is important for other projects statewide.

"There's a huge political dynamic here. If we beat Fibre, it will send a strong message," he said.


Information from: The Daily News, http://www.tdn.com

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.


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