Evergreen State College biomass project torpedoed

GASIFICATION PLANT: Questions doom plan to use forest debris to heat Evergreen State

April 5, 2011 

Evergreen considers wood power

The $14 million biomass gasification plant project is not completely dead, but it won't be happening any time soon, college officials said.

STEVE BLOOM — The Olympian

The Evergreen State College has pulled the plug on a plan to use wood debris to heat the campus.

The $14 million biomass gasification plant project is not completely dead, but it won’t be happening any time soon, college officials said.

Last week, college officials told the state Department of Commerce that the college was no longer interested in a $3.7 million grant to help pay for the controversial project.

They also announced they are no longer seeking project funding in the cash-strapped 2011-13 state capital budget.

“These financial developments mean the project is not financially feasible at this time and will not move forward,” Evergreen Sustainability Council chairman Steve Trotter said in a letter sent to college staff and faculty late last week.

Reasons cited for shelving the project include:

 • The Thurston County Commissioners in December 2010 approved a one-year moratorium on biomass energy projects.

“The moratorium not only leaves us unable to proceed for nearly a year, but it also leaves the status of future codes and permitting related to biomass too uncertain to pursue the project,” Trotter said.

 • Questions remain over the project’s ability to significantly reduce the college’s carbon footprint. The college has a goal of becoming carbon neutral in its activities by 2020.

 • Uncertainty about whether there is enough debris available from forests that are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, which ensure the trees are grown, harvested and manufactured in a sustainable way.

The project would have converted about 14,000 tons of wood waste per year into a synthetic gas that would have replaced the natural gas used to heat the campus.

College officials did not mention robust project opposition as a factor in their decision.

“I absolutely think project opposition played a role,” said Michelle Morris, an organizer of Concerned Citizens of Thurston County, a group opposed to biomass projects.

For instance, the citizens group successfully lobbied the county to impose a moratorium, which, in turn, helped derail the project, Morris said.

Critics opposed the project on several grounds, including air emissions from the plant, project costs and impacts of woody debris removal on forest health.

“This is a major victory for more than the forest and those of us that breathe in Olympia,” said Danielle Segal of Olympia Rising Tide. “It is a victory for those fighting biomass all over the country.”

College officials said the sustainability council still plans to complete its project feasibility study and present it to college officials and the larger community in about two weeks.

“We have not yet completed our report, but I can say that our preliminary findings from more than a year of work indicate the project could meet many of the environment, operational and economic criteria the college established for a replacement of natural gas for campus heating,” Trotter said.

This is the second biomass project in South Sound to bite the dust in the past month.

On March 14, Adage LLC scrapped a project to build a $250 million commercial power plant that would have burned more than 600,000 tons of wood debris a year to produce electricity.

The company said a weak market for renewable energy — not project opposition — doomed the project.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444


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