Vancouver, Wash. biomass project cancelled

By Anna Austin | November 22, 2011

After an ongoing battle between the city and its project developers, a biomass district heating plant planned for downtown Vancouver, Wash., has been officially cancelled.

The announcement comes six weeks after a hearings examiner determined that the project meets the city zoning code, siding with project developers Schneider Electric and Clarke County. The city had declared that the site zoning code prohibited such buildings, as only commercial and light-industrial buildings are allowed. Schneider Electric appealed the decision, making the case that the building is no different than others that are currently in the area.

That’s not the only hurdle the project encountered. Four days before the hearings examiner ruled on the issue, the city council voted to place a surprise six-month moratorium on the downtown project. This would give the city enough time to change the zoning code so the plant would not be able to be built there when the moratorium is lifted. Additionally, the moratorium nixed the project’s opportunity to qualify for the Recovery Act 1603 Program, which provides renewable energy projects with a 30 percent tax grant.

After initially stating that Schneider believed it had found a way to mitigate the impact of not qualifying for 1603 and that it was investigating the legalities of enforcing the moratorium, David Palmer, Schneider Electric program manager, confirmed that the project has been cancelled. He cited the city’s actions as the main reason for discontinuing the project, as without the 1603 grant, the receipt bids from contractors indicate the $960,000 project cost is nearly double the cost of what Clarke County’s feasibility study indicated it would be.

After these setbacks, as well as other obstructions related to the development of the project and market conditions regarding the ability to sell the electrical power generated by the project, it’s no longer financially feasible or possible to continue developing the project, according to Palmer.

The proposed 5-megawatt plant would have replaced 11 fossil fuel boilers with one central facility powered by locally sourced forest residue, and was expected to save taxpayers about $11 million over the next 20 years.