Colo. stewardship contracts to produce biomass for pellets, power

By Erin Voegele | November 27, 2012

The U.S. Forest Service has announced two 10-year stewardship contracts worth a combined $13.4 million. The Medicine Bow-Routt Long Term Stewardship Contract was awarded to Kremmling, Colo.-based wood pellet producer Confluence Energy. The White River Long Term Stewardship Contract was awarded to West Range Reclamation LLC, a Hotchkill, Colo.-based forest management company.

The contracts are focused on improving the health of subalpine and mountain forests affected by mountain pine beetle in the Medicine Bow-Routt and White River national forests in southern Wyoming and northern Colorado. Together, the two contracts identify projects that will treat a minimum of 20,000 acres in two national forests.

“Today’s announcement supports our commitment to accelerate restoration of our national forests and to generate and sustain jobs in rural America,” said USDA Under Secretary Harris Sherman. “Not only will these contracts help us alleviate the impacts of the mountain pine beetle infestation and reduce the threats of catastrophic wildfire, but they also will offer a supply of woody biomass that will be used to produce low-cost heat and a clean, renewable source of electricity.”

According to the Forest Service, the $4.75 million contract to Confluence Energy was awarded based on price and the company’s technical abilities. Under the contract, Confluence Energy will remove beetle-killed trees. In areas where the trees have commercial value for the production of wood pellets, dimension lumber or other biomass projects, Confluence Energy will pay for the material to offset the cost to the government of the other forest health treatments in the contract area. In areas where the beetle-killed trees do not have commercial value, the trees will be removed and residual debris will be piled or scattered.

“The Confluence Energy team is excited and looks forward to working with the Forest Service to manage the Medicine Bow-Routt project,” said Betty Straub of Confluence Energy. “We are confident in our ability to utilize the unwanted material for clean energy and high value purposes.”

The $8.66 million contract to West Range Reclamation was awarded based on the company’s ability to meet technical requirements and per-acre price. According to the Forest Service, the contract focuses on the removal of tree species susceptible to insect and disease infestations, including lodgepole pine, subalpine fir, Douglas-fi, Engelmann spruce, aspen and ponderosa pine.

Information released by the Forest Service specifies that West Range Reclamation has partnered with Eagle Valley Clean Energy to utilize dead and small-diameter trees removed under the contract. Eagle Valley Clean Energy is developing a 11.5 MW biomass power plant in Gypsum, Colo.  In October, USDA Rural Development’s Utilities Service awarded the project a $40 million loan guarantee.

“The continued stability of the 10-year project will allow West Range to provide well-paying, steady, year-round work for our current employees and the ability to hire more skilled operators,” said Pam Motley of West Range Reclamation. “We also intend to do our part to help strengthen local economies by purchasing products and services such as fuel, food, housing, tools, parts, supplies, rentals and repair services from local businesses.”

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., has issued a statement congratulating Confluence Energy and West Range Reclamation on winning the stewardship contracts. “These stewardship contracts will bring new jobs to the state, create a healthier forest for the surrounding communities, reduce wildfire risk and help generate a new source of renewable energy,” he said. “It’s a commonsense program that has proven to be a model for forest restoration in Colorado.”