Colorado’s first woody biomass power plant is nearly complete. Senator Mark Udall and State Senator Gail Schwartz toured the facility in Gypsum on Friday, where wood cuttings from beetle kill trees will be turned into electricity. Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen explains.
Heavy machinery is moving dirt around at a construction site not far from Interstate 70. The area used to be grazed by cows. Now, it’s being transformed into an industrial site, complete with two smokestacks and metal ramps surrounding a tall, main building.
Starting in December, wood cuttings mostly from the White River National Forest will be trucked here, so they can be turned into electricity. Developer Dean Rostrom is with Eagle Valley Clean Energy, the group building the plant.
"The trucks that come in here will look like a Wal Mart truck, the fuel that will come in will largely be chipped, so they’ll chip it in the woods for the most part. It’ll go over there onto the truck dumper and the entire truck dumper and the entire truck dumper will come up and all the fuel will be dumped out of the truck," he says.
The idea is to use wood to generate electricity for homes and businesses in the Eagle Valley and beyond. To do that, the wood chips will be burned to heat water, which will turn to steam. The steam will turn a turbine that’s connected to a generator that will put power on the grid.
Del Worley is the CEO of Holy Cross Energy, the utility that got the project going. Several years ago, Holy Cross put out a bid for renewable energy projects in order to meet their goal of becoming 20 percent renewable by 2015.
"This will put us there, when this comes online, we will have met that goal."
Worley isn’t the project’s only proponent. U.S. Senator Mark Udall visited the site in early August. He says he envisions the project being the first of many in the state.
"We can easily envision five and the sky’s the limit, this is cutting edge, it’s poineering and we’re here to tip our hats to the owners who have invested in it," Udall says.
The $56 million plant will put 41 people to work in a region reliant on dollars generated from tourism, real estate and construction.
It also helps clean up the forests, according to State Senator Gail Schwartz. She pushed legislation that creates business for the plant. The bulk of the fuel used here will come from red and dead forests killed by the Mountain Pine Beetle. She says the plant gives loggers a reason to clear those areas.
"There’s not enough money at the federal, there’s not enough money at the state level to go in and manage these forests, but this is the beginning of a market based solution. They’re bringing value to that slash and brush that was clearly waste," she says.
There are some residents in the Gypsum area who don’t like such an industrial facility in their community. But, overall, Eagle County Manager Keith Montag says people support it.
"I think in general it’s being embraced by the community, I think the community understands the benefits of something like this. Of course, there’s always a few folks who always have questions and concerns."
The power plant will generate 11 and a half megawatts of electricity per year and burn roughly 250 tons of woody biomass each day once it starts running in December.