OLYMPIA - The Thurston County commissioners approved an emergency ordinance Tuesday, calling for a one-year moratorium on new wood-waste-to-energy projects in Thurston County.
Meanwhile, engineers at Olympic Region Clean Air Agency have recommended approval of a permit that governs air pollution from the Adage wood waste-burning power plant in Mason County near Shelton.
The two separate actions were the latest in a continuing debate over the merits of generating energy from wood debris.
The county action, combined with state budget woes, could spell trouble for a $14 million proposed project to use wood waste instead of natural gas to heat The Evergreen State College’s campus.
The commissioners invoked the moratorium in response to citizen concerns about plans for as many as five biomass projects on the Olympic Peninsula, including the Evergreen project.
The moratorium gives the commissioners time to learn more about emerging biomass issues such as air emissions from wood-burning and gasification plants, fuel supply and how biomass plants would fit into the county land-use code, county administrator Don Krupp said.
The commissioners’ ordinance caught Evergreen college officials off guard.
“We haven’t had time to truly understand what the moratorium means for our project,” said college spokesman Jason Wettstein.
The college expects to decide by mid-March whether to proceed with the project, college relations director Todd Sprague said. The goal of the project is to reduce the college’s carbon footprint by reducing reliance on fossil fuels to power the campus steam boilers.
The project has come under fire from residents who claim it isn’t sustainable, a green-energy project or cost-effective.
Proposed financing for the project includes a $3.7 million grant from the state Department of Commerce and $3 million in state capital budget funds.
However, applicants of the Commerce grants are supposed to be under contract by the end of this state budget biennium, which is June 2011, Commerce official Bill Cole said.
And the $3 million in capital budget funds for the project is not included in Gov. Chris Gregoire’s 2011-13 state budget proposal.
The Olympic Regional Clean Air Agency staff recommendation Tuesday clears the way for a 40-day public-comment period on the permit for the controversial, $250 million project, which would burn more than 600,000 tons of forest wood debris a year to generate enough electricity to power about 40,000 homes.