OLYMPIA - The Thurston County commissioners decided Wednesday to create a technical advisory group to help them form standards for reviewing proposed biomass projects in unincorporated Thurston County.
In the meantime, the moratorium on all types of wood waste-to-energy projects, adopted Dec. 21, will stay in effect.
Among the groups likely to be represented on the working group are supporters of the moratorium, including the Concerned Citizens of Thurston County and the Thurston Mason County Medical Society, and foes of the moratorium, including The Evergreen State College.
The college is weighing whether to pursue a $14 million project that would turn forest wood debris into a synthetic gas the college could use instead of natural gas to heat the campus.
The moratorium could stop the project . It’s not clear whether the working group would complete its work in time for Evergreen to meet a spring deadline for a $3.7 million state grant to help finance the project.
“Evergreen deadlines don’t drive county decisions,” Commissioner Karen Valenzuela said.
The advisory group will provide a forum for Evergreen to distinguish its potential project from largescale, less-efficient plants that burn wood to produce electricity, college sustainability coordinator Scott Morgan said.
“But it doesn’t give us any certainty on our project,” he said.
The decision to form the advisory group was advanced by Commissioner Sandra Romero and accepted by the other two commissioners.
County planners had recommended that the board keep the moratorium in place and refer it to the county planning commission for a review and recommendation.
Other options included lifting the moratorium or amending it to allow the Evergreen project to advance.
The commissioners imposed the moratorium over concerns that county landuse policies are silent on biomass projects. They also voiced concerns about air emissions and forest health if large volumes of woody debris are removed and converted to energy.
In the past two weeks, the commissioners have been briefed by state agencies, concerned residents, Evergreen officials and others on the pros and cons of various biomass projects.
“I didn’t hear anything that compels me to make any changes in the moratorium,” Valenzuela said.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444, firstname.lastname@example.org