Plan would put waste to work

OLYMPIA - A Maryland-based energy company hopes to break ground by late this year on a power plant in Shelton that would convert wood waste from logging operations into electricity.

The company, a joint venture of Duke Energy and a global energy firm called Areva, is negotiating with forestland owners to secure the 600,000 tons of wood debris it needs yearly to fuel its $250 million biomass plant.

“We’re contacting all the major landowners within 50 miles of the plant site,” Reed Wills, president of the energy startup firm, Adage LLC, said after a public unveiling of the project in Olympia on Thursday.

One of the major timber companies in the Shelton area – Green Diamond Resource Co. – is in talks with Adage about supplying feedstock for the plant.

“We’re very interested in a biomass plant in our community,” said Patti Case, public affairs manager for Green Diamond.

Adage officials said the power plant would be built to produce 55 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 40,000 homes.

But Wills said it’s too early to tell who would buy the power or what the wholesale cost of the power would be. “The best solution for everyone would be to sell it here in Washington state,” he said.

The project is targeted for Port of Shelton property near the Shelton Airport. Along with building permits, it would need an air pollution permit from the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency.

“We’ve had discussions with the company, but they haven’t applied yet for a permit,” noted Fran McNair, executive director of Olympic Region Clean Air Agency.

She said the equipment the company plans to use to control emissions appears to meet the agency’s requirement that it be the best available technology.

The project drew strong support Thursday from political and community leaders in Mason County, a rural Western Washington county with a 10.7 percent unemployment rate and long reliance on the timber industry.

“There’s a great labor force here – ready, willing and able to work,” said state Rep. Fred Finn, a Democrat whose district includes Mason County.

The woodwaste-to-energy plant would create 700 direct and indirect jobs during its 2.5 years of construction, company officials estimated. Once operating, the plant would require 24 employees and another 100 to harvest and deliver the woody debris from the forest.

The project would include a partnership with John Deere, which builds equipment that harvests and bundles wood limbs in the woods.

Wills said his company hopes to qualify for federal stimulus money included in the Obama administration’s support for a green energy economy.

Historically, woody debris from logging operations has been gathered in piles and burned in the forest. However, there’s increased pressure from regulatory agencies to reduce slash burning to protect air quality.

In addition, wood debris is viewed by Adage and other companies entering the field as a renewable natural resource that can be converted to energy to reduce both foreign dependence on oil and greenhouse gas emissions from uncontrolled burning.

“This is part of the next chapter in the forest products industry,” said Mason County Commissioner Lynda Ring Erickson.