Biomass plant to open in 2013

WOODVILLE, TEXAS - The East Texas Electric Cooperative is reinventing the way rural households use firewood.

Within the next few years, the cooperative will open a woodchip-powered renewable energy plant that will give an additional source of electrical fuel to 308,000 members spanning East Texas north to Bowie County through southern Liberty County.

The 50-megawatt Woodville Biomass Plant, set to open in 2013, will convert bark, sawdust and woodchips from the local logging industry into electricity.

Ryan Thomas, chief financial officer of East Texas Electric Cooperative Inc., said that when the plant is complete, it will double the cooperative's renewable energy — which comes from hydro-electric plants —from 6 percent to 12 percent.

“Instead of being totally reliant on fossil fuels, it's a renewable piece of the pie,” he said.

About 57 percent of the cooperative's electricity comes from lignite and Powder River Basin coal. The biomass plant will reduce that dependency to 48 percent, Thomas said.

So far, $40 million worth of clean, renewable energy bonds have been allocated to fund the plant. Thomas said they are applying for more money.

The Wood County Electric Cooperative is one of the distribution cooperatives under The East Texas Electric Cooperative, a nonprofit electric generation and transmission cooperative based in Nacogdoches. The East Texas nonprofit serves 46 counties.

By bringing a renewable source of energy to East Texas, cooperative members can take a step forward to continue taking care of their environment, said Debbie Robinson, chief executive officer and general manager of the Wood County Electric Cooperative.

“Those of us in East Texas are very partial to our trees and the beauty of East Texas,” she said. “At the same time, renewable resources are more expensive.”

She said the Wood County cooperative, which serves parts of Camp, Franklin, Hopkins, Rains, Smith, Titus, Upshur, Van Zandt and Wood counties, balances providing reliable power at an affordable cost with bringing in renewable sources.

“A lot of time, when you think of renewable energy, you think of wind or solar, but those are not conducive to East Texas,” she said. “That's why the Woodville plant is important to us it's built locally and it benefits the local economy.”

Thomas said the plant reduces dependency on electricity from a Louisiana power sources.

“The more we generate within the footprint of our area, the fewer transmissions we have to worry about,” he said.

He estimated that the plant will create about 250 construction jobs and 32 full-time jobs. Construction is slated to begin in early 2012.

According to an economic impact study conducted in late 2010 by GDS Associates, the Woodville plant is estimated to bring about $265 million in local economic benefits.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will defer, for three years, carbon dioxide permit requirements for greenhouse gas emissions from biomass-fired plants and other biogenic sources.

The agency said it plans to use that time to seek further independent scientific analysis of this complex issue before developing a rule on how these emissions should be treated and whether a Clean Air Act permit is required.

“We are working to find a way forward that is scientifically sound and manageable for both producers and consumers of biomass energy,” Lisa P. Jackson, EPA administrator, said in a news release.

She said the agency will develop a common-sense approach that protects the environment and encourages clean energy.

“Renewable, homegrown power sources are essential to our energy future and an important step to cutting the pollution responsible for climate change,” she said.

Thomas said the Woodville Biomass Plant was considered “carbon neutral,” despite the fact he said it would produce greenhouse gas.

“Considering you'll be replanting, it's carbon that would be released into the air anyway from rot or from landowners burning the wood themselves,” Thomas said.

He said biomass is part of the answer to reducing the country's carbon footprint.

“I think every energy resource is an answer,” he said. “There's not one silver bullet, but a good mix of wind, solar, biomass, hydro and nuclear all need to be looked at.”

The Woodville plant would have smoke stacks about 150 feet tall and would produce about 15 tons of ash a day, captured in an enclosed system and taken off-site in closed trucks.

Information from the biomass plant said the ash could have beneficial uses as road bed material.

East Texas Electric Cooperative's plant site, a part of the property of the North American Procurement Company's existing chipping mill site, was chosen because of its location on-site with the NAPCO facility.

Thomas said the plant's fuel source would be more efficient and create less impact on the community because it will be built close to the chipping mill.

All of the wood will come from within a 50-mile radius of the plant, Thomas said.

No other fuel — be it tires, pulpwood or construction wood — would be allowed to be used as fuel for the biomass plant.

Thomas also said it would use only “finished chipped chips,” and would not be permitted to chip wood at the site.


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