Buena Vista Biomass Power project proceeds

By Lisa Gibson | June 13, 2011

With an environmental lawsuit behind it, the 18-megawatt Buena Vista Biomass Power plant in Buena Vista, Calif., will continue its reconfiguration from coal to biomass, having suffered no significant setbacks as a result of the litigation.           

The settlement between Buena Vista Biomass Power and the Center for Biological Diversity came at the end of May and required little to no changes in the practices of the biomass power plant, but instead guarantees more transparency in harvesting operations, according to Mark Thompson, vice president of Buena Vista Biomass Power. “We’ve agreed that we would only use fuels that have followed either a [National Environmental Policy Act] or timber harvest plan procedures and we would not try to access merchantable timber logs,” he said, adding that the company is already under that restriction to qualify as a facility utilizing renewable fuels.

Although the Center for Biological Diversity officially filed its lawsuit Feb. 4, 2011, the group had been filing letters and appeals in the permitting process since January of 2010, Thompson said. Its final appeal of the permit approvals was denied 30 days before the lawsuit was filed, on the grounds that Buena Vista Biomass Power’s environmental impact review was complete and properly conducted.

Thompson said the CBD outlined two main concerns in its lawsuit—greenhouse gas emissions and a growing demand for fuel from the forest. A disagreement around how to calculate greenhouse gas emissions surfaced, Thompson explained, adding that environmentalists do not consider natural forest fires to be a cause of pollution.

And the concern about forest fuel demand grows from a misunderstanding about the types of material biomass plants use, he said. The company clarified to CBD that it will not be clear-cutting merchantable timber to produce power. As part of the settlement, Buena Vista Biomass Power will continuously provide feedstock information to an ongoing advisory committee that will ensure the material is renewable and harvested from sustainably managed forest lands.

“We’ve worked collaboratively with them and their issues were resolvable,” he said, adding that the facility is still on track to be completed this year. “It really didn’t slow down our progress because the project was fully permitted and even under litigation, we have the rights to our permits.”

Besides the permits, all financing and major contracts are also in place for the project, helping to ensure it speeds along as expected. “There’s nothing that can stand in the way of the project,” Thompson said. The repowering project includes substantial efficiency upgrades, a completely integrated emissions system with control technology, a biomass fuel handling system, and an energy-management and operating control system.