Colorado plant to run on trees killed by pine beetles

By Lisa Gibson
U.S. Senator Mark Udall, D-Colo., the U.S. Forest Service and the Denver Water Board are behind a proposal to build a biomass plant in Vail, Colo., fueled by lodgepole pine trees killed by mountain pine beetles.

Private energy contractor Hayden-Cary & King of Darien, Conn., proposed the combined-heat-and-power (CHP) development project and has applied for a U.S. DOE technology development and demonstration grant, according to Andrew King, president of the company. The estimated cost of the gasification/pyrolysis project, 28-megawatt thermal, 6-megawatt electrical, is about $20 million, he added. If built, the 18,000-square-foot facility would sit on an industrial site adjacent to the community's maintenance facility, he said. The demonstration project will displace about 17,000 tons of greenhouseb gases.

A feasibility study will be conducted, according to Stan Zemler, Vail town manager, to address elements such as environmental issues, among others. "There is so much discovery that needs to be done here," he said. "There are always things that surface about emissions." A sustainable supply is a significant factor in the feasibility study and there's confidence in the supply over the next 10 years, he said, adding that there are recognizable barriers.

Pine beetles have wreaked havoc in forests recently, especially in Colorado, where it's estimated that 80 percent to 90 percent of the trees will be killed before the epidemic is over, according to Zemler. "The pine beetle infestation is pretty dramatic," he said.

Vail is a good location for the plant, King said, because of the amount of dead trees and its reputation as a world-class resort. "If you can do it in Vail, you can pretty much do it anywhere," he said.

Nearby Holy Cross Energy has expressed interest in purchasing the electricity produced at the plant and supplying it to the grid to power local households, providing the plant meets certain qualifying facility definitions, according to a letter of interest submitted by Holy Cross. The water produced could be used for domestic hot water and heat, King said, or for hotels, snow melting, or chilling for air conditioners in the summer.

"The most striking part is what this particular project will accomplish," King said. The three main objectives are demonstrating total thermal efficiency; surpassing California's emission standards; and exhibiting sustainable forestry while creating a market for trees killed by pine beetles.

-Lisa Gibson