Northwest Energy plans $300M Oregon biomass investment

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Northwest Energy Systems will follow the fuel to Oregon with two planned biomass plants

Northwest Energy Systems will follow the fuel to Oregon with two planned biomass plants.

A Bellevue, Wash., energy developer is proposing a pair of $150 million biomass plants it believes will generate a combined $1 billion in economic impact for Oregon.

Northwest Energy Systems Co. LLC hopes the two 40-megawatt plants, to be located near Klamath Falls in southern Oregon and Warm Springs in central Oregon, will be operating by the end of 2013. Each would provide enough electricity to power 35,000 homes.

Once running, the plants would mark the culmination of a year-long effort by Northwest Energy Systems’ parent company, Jones Holding Co., to develop a biomass facility in forest-rich Oregon.

Jones Holding Co. dates back to the 1930s when it owned several sawmill operations across Washington.

After nearly four decades in the wood products industry, the company branched into the world of independent power producers in the early 1980s, leveraging its ties to the logging industry to develop co-generation electricity plants tied to sawmills.

Over a 28-year period, the company built five power plants: biomass operations in Wyoming and Michigan, natural gas-fired plants in Washington and California and a coal-diesel plant built for the federal government in Alaska, said Bruce Thompson, a senior vice president with the company.

It eventually sold the two biomass plants to raise capital, and the natural gas plant was sold two years ago to Puget Sound Energy Inc.

That it hasn't arrived in Oregon until now is a matter of fuel.

Biomass is produced by burning wood waste in a boiler, creating steam that powers a turbine and generates electricity.

But despite Oregon’s abundant woody resources, procuring an adequate and consistent supply of feedstock — whether it be wood waste, bark dusk or a timber industry byproduct called "hog fuel" — at the right price isn’t easy.

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