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TimberWest November/December 2013

November/December 2015

ON THE COVER
Photo of Bighorn Logging’s yarder taken by Lindsay Mohlere.

Emerald Valley Keeps on Keeping on
Resolve and flexibility are the hallmark of Emerald Valley Thinning

The Challenges of Change
Harve Dethlefs retired from electronics and began a career in logging

Don’t Overlook the Value of Alder
Defiance Forest Products discusses the marketability of Alder

A Lifetime in the Woods
Gardner Logging & Road Construction

Biomass Column
Colorado Woody Biomass Plant Plays Waiting Game

Pacific Logging Congress Review

DEPARTMENTS

In the News

Tech Review - Portable Grinders

Association News

Machinery Row

New Products

Guest Column

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Woody Biomass
Turkey Springs treatment, before and after.

Woody Biomass

Colorado Woody Biomass Plant Plays Waiting Game

By Barbara Coyner

Nobody knows better than J.R. Ford all the hurdles that have to be overcome to get a woody biomass energy facility up and running. The Colorado businessman started his efforts to build a five-megawatt plant in Pagosa Springs in 2006 and subsequently had to modify the plan to produce 3 MW of power and Biochar as a coproduct. Ford has yet to even pour the foundation for the facility. It isn’t for want of trying.

“It is impossible to go forward, there are so many strings attached,” says Ford, the owner of Pagosa Land Company, which has long worked on projects in forest restoration, streamside improvements, roads, and ponds. His proposed woody biomass facility is being developed under the name Renewable Forest Energy LLC. “We’ve decided recently to just install the gasifier so we can start producing biochar and wait for the power production until we can finalize a contract to sell the power.”

Cutting Boards & Creating Jobs

For Ford, the idea of woody biomass power is a natural progression in the world of forestry. He got into chipping forest residuals as part of forest improvement projects and he has paid attention. That has helped him snag Forest Service stewardship contracts and even a Forest Service grant to do a feasibility study for a community-based woody biomass plant. Additionally, he’s hauled politicians and forest stakeholders out to see his on-the-ground work; he went participated in a collaborative group; he’s gone to Sweden to look at custom chippers and grinders; he’s studied gasifier plant designs; and he hired consultants to evaluate potential biomass supply.

In June, Ford cut his first boards in a small mill that employs six people. The six-year-old mill equipment was purchased from the government, which previously had sprung for the sawmill equipment on behalf of a nonprofit. The nonprofit bailed on the project, leaving the never-used mill available. It was a gain for J.R. Ford and the town of Pagosa Springs, which once had the largest sawmill in the state. Ford was now seeing two of his goals met: thinning the nearby forests and employing local people.

biomassRenewable Forest Energy is achieving two of its goals: thinning forests and employing local people, using this Bruks wood chipper and Valmet 890.3.

No to Energy

Ford’s third goal of making energy from the woody biomass remains unmet. Why? Regular readers of this column would suspect either opposition from environmental groups or fickle policy on the part of politicians. In both cases, you would be incorrect. Ford says the local collaborative group and area environmental organizations have given their blessings to the proposed gasifier plant. Ditto for state politicians.

“State officials don’t see that we have a choice,” says Ford, noting the fuels buildup and beetle-kill problems in adjacent Ponderosa pine and warm dry mix conifer forests. “We need to remove materials from the forest and make something out of it.” He adds that most existing mills won’t take Ponderosa Pine, so his mill is turning the local species into boards and lumber that go out into a developing market.

Power Supplier Stands in the Way

So, back to the question: What is the holdup on the Pagosa Springs plant? It’s a convoluted story involving the area’s major power supplier, Tri-State, and the area’s smaller rural electric cooperative LPEA. According to Ford, LPEA has been very cooperative while Tri-State, on the other hand, has not.

Under existing Tri-State policies, cooperatives like LPEA can choose to add a maximum of five percent local or non-traditional energy sources to its energy mix being supplied by Tri-State. This type of local energy can look very attractive to small co-ops and their customers. But it is not exactly a hit with the largely coal-powered Tri-State. Under these same policies, Tri-State can modify the rates and conditions under which it will purchase this power, influencing which types of projects are financially feasible.

After a recent ruling by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), a small electric co-op at Delta, Colorado, got the go-ahead to directly purchase power from a local renewable energy project rather than being required to purchase all of their power through Tri-State. The FERC ruling allows the little guys to add more local and renewable sources, but Tri-State is still allowed to modify its policies and procedures on the rest of the power purchased from them, with local co-ops having to make up any cost differences for directly purchasing from local sources. That could mean unexpected rate hikes, not a popular thing among small rural electric co-ops. Put in simple terms, it’s a gotcha game, one that has forced J.R. Ford to alter his plans. “I am just tired of dealing with Tri-Stat.” says Ford. “I’m not a big government kind of guy. “But with Tri-State, we kind of need a solution at the government level. Why can’t the local coops buy local power without interference from Tri-State?”

Meanwhile, Ford notes that his ongoing forestry projects are yielding twice as many chips as first estimated—a steady supply of raw materials coming from within largely a 35-mile radius. With most mills taking mainly spruce these days, supplies of pine and dry mixed conifers remain largely unused as Southwest Colorado tries to tackle its huge fuels reduction problem.

Ford’s problem might likely be a more common problem as other woody biomass plants try to take hold. To more fully understand the FERC ruling at Delta, Colorado, please see http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/articles/2015/07/ferc-removes-obstacles-that-limit-distributed-renewable-energy-in-colorado.html, or the article in an April 2015 edition of High County News at http://www.hcn.org/articles/rural-electric-cooperative-asks-government-for-more-freedom. On information about the local collaborative group San Juan Headwaters Forest Health Partnership, please see http://www.sanjuanheadwaters.org. If you are served by a rural cooperative that gets its power from a bigger source, odds are this will become a more universal situation, one with no straightforward solution. Just ask J.R. Ford.