Oregon county welcomes biomass plant

By Anna Austin | May 31, 2010
Posted July 16, 2010, at 11:34 a.m. CST

Lake County, Ore., has experienced significant job loss in the past two decades due to the closure of several sawmills. An unfortunate case of cause and effect, the need to manage and thin the region's vast forestlands-the majority of which are publicly owned-is now at an all-time high. A new biomass plant coming to the area, however, may help alleviate both problems, and the community is welcoming it with open arms.

The project, which would consist of a 24-megawatt biomass cogeneration power plant built next to Lake County's last operating sawmill, Collins Company Freemont Sawmill, has taken years to come to fruition. It was owned by two other developers before Iberdrola Renewables Inc. took over, armed with a $1.7 million Recovery Act grant.

Iberdrola Renewables, which has traditionally been in the wind energy business, became involved in its first biomass project in Tacoma, Wash., in 2009, but is only charged with moving electricity at Simpson Tacoma biomass plant through the transmissions systems. The project at Lakeview marks Iberdrola's first fully owned and operated biomass power plant, according to spokeswoman Jan Johnson.

Johnson said the wind energy giant became familiar with the Lake County project and determined that it was the most promising, advanced development project on the West Coast for a number of reasons. "When we purchased this project it was because of its very strong fundamentals-with Collins Company we have a very good fuel supply partner, the particular location has good transmission to attractive markets, and it enjoys enormous public, state and environmental community support."

Lake County Commissioner Brad Winters is enthusiastic that the project, Lakeview Cogeneration LLC, is finally moving forward. "There have been so many things that it has been contingent upon tax credits, land use and so on," he said. "We've known it would be a huge, huge project to land here and so beneficial to Lake County-the jobs, the whole works associated with it."

Winters, a native of Lake County, said the surrounding communities have been hard hit over the years bythe closings of all but one sawmill, which will utilize steam from the new biomass plant to power its operations. Sawmills have long served as the lifeblood of Lake County, and the remaining mill will be able to continue operating and benefit from the biomass power project, according to Winters. "We've been very much impacted by the decline in the timber industry," he said. "When you're a small, rural community, that's one of your major employment bases."

Electricity generated from the biomass power plant will be sold to local utilities, helping to meet the state's renewable portfolio standard (RPS). Oregon's RPS requires the largest utilities in Oregon to provide 25 percent of their retail sales of electricity from renewable sources of energy by 2025, smaller utilities 10 percent and the smallest 5 percent.

The project will bring new jobs to the county, 20 at the plant and 50 in the forest while retaining existing jobs, Winters said. About 78 percent of the land in Lake County is publicly owned, he said, and roughly 3.5 million acres of that is forested. "So now, the federal government will be able to manage that land for a purpose that I believe is correct,-thinning and preventing catastrophic fires-for biomass power, and it will be great for our forest health."

Among the previously described benefits, the sawmill's use of steam from the biomass plant will improve air quality in the area, Winters added. "The old boiler that the sawmill uses now would come offline. Plus, the waste byproducts from the sawmill will be recycled to the plant. "It's just real positive for this community."

Johnson said Iberdrola is working on gaining an air permit from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, and expects to being initial construction on the project this fall.