Washington county considers district biomass energy

By Anna Austin | March 29, 2011

Southwestern Washington’s Clark County is exploring the possibility of district biomass heat and power in downtown Vancouver.

Clark County Project Development Manager Marlia Jenkins said the project has been in the works for about a year and a half. If implemented, the system would heat five or more county buildings, and produce 3.5 to 4.9 megawatts of electricity for sale. 

Currently, the buildings are heated with natural gas. If the switch was made to biomass, it would require about 44,000 bone-dry tons of woody biomass per year, according to Jenkins. She said the county is looking to develop a public-private partnership in which the private corporation would own, operate and maintain the facility. “We’d buy the hot and cold water from them, they would pay us rent for the land that it sits on, and they would also sell the electricity generated from the plant,” Jenkins said.

That would save the county about $175,000 per year, when taking into account the price it would pay for the hot and cool water, getting the land lease revenue, and running its chillers less.

At an April 20 meeting, a final study of the project will be presented to Clark County’s board of commissioners to determine whether the project will move on to the next phase, which is searching for a private partner. Jenkins said she is unsure what the outcome will be. “This is pretty innovative for a local government, and it’s got risks attached to it, both policy and technical,” she said. “But we know our commissioners are very interested, and they’ve put in a lot of time, effort and money researching it. The question is if they’ll actually say ‘yes, we want to do this.’ ”

If a partnership can’t be put together, the county won’t move forward with the project on its own. “Our whole objective was to look at switching to a locally available renewable fuel, and have a heating and cooling cost that is equal to or less than our current cost,” Jenkins added.