Planning Commission OKs permits for Nippon biomass cogeneration plant
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Harold Norlund, Nippon Paper Industries USA mill manager, speaks about a proposed biomass cogeneration plant for the Port Angeles paper mill during a public hearing of the Port Angeles Planning Commission on Wednesday. -- Photo by Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News

By Tom Callis
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT ANGELES -- The Nippon paper mill's proposed energy-producing biomass boiler cleared its first regulatory hurdle Wednesday.

The Port Angeles Planning Commission, after hearing a slew of comments both for and against the project, approved conditional use and shoreline development permits at a meeting attended by about 60 people.

Nippon Paper Industries USA also will need air quality permits from the state, and waste discharge, storm water and building permits from the city before construction can begin.

Construction of the new boiler will begin in December, if all permits are approved. The boiler, which would burn 160,000 tons of biomass per year, would take 18 months to build.

The company would use the $71 million project, funded with the help of $2 million in federal grants and loans, to generate steam needed to make paper and generate 20 megawatts of green energy that it intends to sell.

The current boiler, built in the 1950s, also operates on biomass -- which includes forest slash left from logging operations and wood waste from sawmills -- but does not produce electricity.

Nippon and an environmental impact statement conducted by the city say the new boiler would be more efficient and overall pollute less, even though it would burn twice as much biomass.

But opponents argued that the burning of biomass removes wood from the forest that could return nutrients to the soil, and questioned whether the practice is really green energy.

"I know renewable energy and this is not a renewable project," said Bob Lynette of Sequim, who used to run a renewable energy consulting firm.

Some also commented that the effects of biomass power on the forests have yet to be properly determined, and that carbon dioxide emissions, which weren't considered in city's environmental impact statement -- or EIS -- because the project is considered carbon-neutral, should be addressed.

Supporters of the project said it would create jobs, help keep the mill competitive in a declining industry, and produce energy that would help power suppliers, like the Clallam County Public Utility District, meet renewable energy requirements.

"If you believe in this community as much as we do, you will accept and encourage this project," said mill employee Rod Weeks.

Representatives of the Clallam County Economic Development Council and Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce were among the supporters.

Logging sites also would not be stripped bare of biomass, said John Calhoun, a Port of Port Angeles commissioner and representative of the University of Washington's Natural Resource Center.

Calhoun said some logs and branches are required to be left at logging sites. He also said there is enough available biomass to meet energy demands.

The state Department of Natural Resources is conducting an inventory of the state's biomass supplies.

Harold Norlund, mill manager, also said that trees would not be logged just to provide biomass.

Carbon monoxide, particulate matter and sulfur dioxide would decrease with the new boiler.

And while pollution overall would decrease, nitrogin oxides and volatile organic compounds would increase but within standards, according to the EIS.

Norlund said that the current boiler gets about a third of its fuel from forest slash.

A meeting held Tuesday in Port Angeles by No Biomass Burn, a Seattle-based group opposed to such boilers, attracted between 40 and 50 people, said its coordinator, Duff Badgley.

Port Townsend Paper Co., also is awaiting approval for an energy-producing biomass boiler at its mill in Port Townsend.

Nippon's boiler would be part of the state's biomass power pilot project, authorized by a bill introduced by Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, in 2009.

A bill Van De Wege introduced in the 2010 legislative session also allows DNR to enter long-term biomass contracts.

Norlund said the mill would make 15-year-long contracts with biomass suppliers.

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Reporter Tom Callis can be reached at 360-417-3532 or at tom.callis@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: September 22. 2010 11:47PM
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