Appeal of Montana biomass gasifier's air permit rejected

By Lisa Gibson | September 20, 2011

The Missoula City-County Health Department has denied an appeal from biomass opponents of the University of Montana’s biomass gasifier, but more appeals are still possible and in fact expected.

A coalition of conservation groups had requested the previously issued air permit be revoked, expressing concern about pollution from the woody biomass feedstock. But the project meets air quality standards and has been determined to be one of the cleanest biomass boilers in the state.

Any appeals to the Air Pollution Control Board of the health department’s decision must be made by Sept. 30 and Tom Javins, university associate director for utilities and project manager, fully expects further challenges. Opposition groups have publicly stated they plan to contest the project every step of the way.

The $16 million plant will employ a Nexterra Systems Corp. gasifier and will consume about 15,500 bone-dry tons per year of woody biomass. It’s expected to be operational in the second quarter of 2013, producing 700 kilowatts of power and 34,000 pounds of heat per hour. In addition, the university will incorporate the gasification system into the curriculum for the College of Technology’s energy technician and forestry programs.

Javins said the University is working on the agreements for fuel and reviewing the environmental assessment document.

“The cost of wood and the current low prices and projections for natural gas are concerns that need to be nailed down prior to committing to detailed design and construction,” he said. “We hope to have that accomplished prior to the November Board of Regents meeting. Assuming the numbers line up and we have little or no environmental litigation, we are on track to have a fire for the 2013 heating season.”