Iberdrola's Lakeview biomass plans call for more emissions
By Lee van der Voo
Sustainable Business Oregon contributing writer
Iberdrola is asking to change an air quality permit for a biomass plant planned in Lakeview.
Iberdrola Renewables Inc. is looking to more than double the amount of emissions allowed at its planned biomass plant in Lakeview, following word from a supplier that its equipment doesn’t work as well to filter them as originally guaranteed.
The project is still aiming to reduce total emissions in the town by combining with the Collins Pine Company to replace a wood-fired boiler at the sawmill with an updated version that produces steam that generates electricity.
But original plans called for lowering allowable limits on particulate matter — of real concern in Lakeview — by 66 percent. Now those limits will be only slightly lower than in the past.
For the last 10 to 15 years, Lakeview’s air quality has been under scrutiny because it exceeds federal limits for some sizes of particulate matter — small particles and droplets comprised of dust and soil, metals, acids and organic chemicals. Programs to curb the pollution, which has been attributed to residential woodburning and emissions from the sawmill, have controlled but not eliminated the issue.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is holding a meeting Thursday to discuss Iberdrola’s proposal and hear concerns. It takes place at 6 p.m. at the Lakeview Senior Center. Any change to the permit would require a comment period and a second, more formal hearing.
Mark Fisher, senior permit writer for DEQ in Bend, is heading that effort. He said experts in Portland are reviewing an analysis of the impacts of the proposed change, submitted by Iberdrola.
“The emissions that they are proposing now will be completely offset. So there will be no net increase in emissions to the ambient air quality… to the area," said Fisher. "The tradeoff is less now than it was before."
Nevertheless, he said the change is complicated. The requested increase will require Iberdrola to conduct an air dispersion model to figure out how the change will impact Lakeview air quality. The company will also have to demonstrate, through a control technology analysis, that it plans to install the best available technology to filter emissions.
To improve overall levels of particulate matter in Lakeview, Iberdrola has offered to provide $25,000 over five years to a city fund that already replaces old woodstoves with newer models. Wood burning is a primary heat source in the area, where other alternatives are costly and in limited supply.
“If that money goes to replacement of woodstoves that would help, probably more so than emission reductions at Collins, but we kind of want to have a ‘no net increase’ in emissions,” said Fisher.
Iberdrola spokesman Paul Copleman said Iberdrola was working with DEQ and would continue to do so. Should DEQ allow the permit change for the facility, it still isn’t clear when it would be built. Market forces have prompted Iberdrola to slow construction while natural gas prices are low and energy buyers are reluctant to commit to purchasing a newer, possibly costlier technology.
Iberdrola stopped construction on the biomass plant last year because no buyer had stepped forward to purchase the power it would generate. Planning for the facility, however, continued.
“I think we’ve said from the get-go that market conditions will always be an important factor in our ability to build this project, so permit-in-hand, we’re looking to build when we have a customer, so until we have that customer we’re not in a position to move forward,” said Copleman. “I think if you look at the last four years, you look at (natural) gas prices, and they’ve been at record lows but four years ago they were at record highs. I’m not sure that anyone is willing to make a bet on what the prices of other technologies and other fuel sources are going to be,” he said.
Should the plant be constructed, it is tentatively valued at $70 million and slated generate 26 megawatts of electricity annually from steam produced in the biomass-fired boiler. The boiler would be fed with forest waste and trees thinned from the surrounding area, along with sawdust and bark from Collins’ Freemont Sawmill, requiring about 160,000 tons of biomass annually. About two megawatts of electricity produced would be used to operate the sawmill. The remainder would be sold to utilities on the West Coast as a “firm” renewable energy.
The project has already had to forego a $1.725 million federal stimulus grant while market forces impede construction. Should it be built, it has been offered a 15-year tax abatement from Lakeview and Lakeview County, but will pay community development fees. Community leaders say the jobs are more important than tax monies. Iberdrola says 18 to 20 are full time jobs would be required to operate the plant. The company estimates it could support another 50 forest jobs.
Chris Zinda, a Lakeview activist who opposes the plant, points to a Wall Street Journal article that reports 85 of 107 operating biomass plants had violations.
"Does this industry have a history of lowballing their emissions permit requests and then coming back and having them modified? If that's the case, I don't trust them," Zinda said. "As an industry they have a poor record."
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