Leaving a Legacy

A Washington biomass bill is touted as a job-saver, bioenergy booster
By Anna Austin | April 25, 2012

As of mid-March, Washington state’s biomass energy production facilities that began operating before 1999 are classified as renewable energy producers under the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS). That sounds like a relatively simple modification to regulations, but the Legacy Biomass bill (Senate Bill 5575) is poised to have a big impact on bioenergy in Washington.

The first U.S. power plant built to produce electricity from wood is just one facility that will significantly benefit from the new legislation. Avista Corp.’s Kettle Falls, Wash., plant began operation in 1983, so it was far from qualifying as a renewable energy producer under the state’s RPS, even though it uses hog fuel.

The RPS, enacted in 2006, requires large utility providers to generate at least 9 percent of their energy from renewable sources by Jan. 1, 2015, and at least 15 percent by 2020. Power facilities built before 1999, however, were not considered renewable energy producers and therefore had difficulty selling power to electric utilities. In addition, electric utilities that own older plants were forced to come up with alternative ways to meet the RPS mandate.

 “As a result of Senate Bill 5575, energy generated at Avista’s Kettle Falls biomass plant will [now] qualify to meet our renewable requirements in Washington, beginning in 2016,” says Anna Scarlett, spokeswoman for Avista Corp.

 Passage of the bill is good news for local communities, particularly those in and around Kettle Falls, according to Scarlett. “It will promote employment and preserve jobs at a time when rural economies are suffering,” she says. “Kettle Falls provides work to local sawmills, fuel delivery businesses, transportation companies and forest workers.”

The plant generates 50 MW of power from biomass—about 70 tons of wood waste per hour during full operations—and an additional 6.9 MW through a natural gas-fired combustion turbine. “It went online in 1983, and pioneered a technology that has been replicated around the world,” Scarlett adds. “We’re pleased it will finally be given the recognition it deserves.”

Another example of a facility positively impacted by the legislation is Longview Fiber Paper and Packaging Inc. in Longview, Wash., one of the state’s largest biomass energy producers. The mill uses waste from its manufacturing process to generate 32 to 35 MW of electricity to power its operations, with excess sold to the grid.

Sarah Taydas, Longview Fiber Paper and Packaging affairs director, says passage of SB 5575 strengthens the economy of southeast Washington by supporting jobs at its mill site, and the forest products industry across the supply chain. She points out that the bill will keep renewable resources in the state, and also aligns Washington with green energy qualifications in surrounding states—Oregon and California—as well as at the federal level.

The Legacy Biomass bill, which passed with an overwhelming majority, 41-6 in the Senate and 89-9 in the House, takes effect June 1. Not only does it expand qualification for older power production facilities, but also adds materials such as yard and food waste, food processing residues, hog fuel and black liquor generated from pulping and wood manufacturing processes as eligible biomass products.

Senators who sponsored the bill echo the sentiments of the aforementioned companies, saying that without it, hundreds of jobs would have been threatened in communities where double-digit unemployment has been a problem for years.

—Anna Austin