Biomass surges in Washington


It’s been a good week for biomass in Washington. Biomass plants in Port Angeles and Longview received positive news, and a state lawmaker introduced a bill that would ensure the financial stability of biomass plants in the future.

The good news began when a plant in Port Angeles planned by Nippon Paper Industries USA won an appeal to the state Pollution Control Hearings Board.

The victory is significant because it helps pave the way for the plant, already under construction, to operate upon completion in 2013. The victory also marks another failure for a large coalition of environmental groups — Protect the Peninsula’s Future, No Biomass Burn, Port Townsend AirWatchers and the North Olympic Group of the Sierra Club, World Temperate Rainforest Network, Olympic Forest Coalition and Olympic Environmental Council — that brought the appeal forward.

Similar news for a biomass plant expansion planned by Longview Fibre Paper and Packaging, which when complete in 2015 will be the largest biomass plant in the state. A coalition of three environmental groups just dropped their appeal to the pollutions control board.

Last spring, Longview Fibre officials submitted a plan to increase the efficiency of a boiler and recovery furnace and install additional steam turbines. The company also plans to shut down two aging boilers, an old recovery furnace and an old dissolving tank to increase efficiency.

“It’s reassuring to know that our (permit application) was done correctly, and the work by the Department of Ecology has been confirmed. Since construction has already been underway, our project can continue on schedule,” Longview Fibre spokeswoman Sarah Taydas said.

State Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond, is aware of the challenges that biomass plants face. This is why he sponsored Senate Bill 5575, which received a hearing in Olympia this week. The bill would classify woody biomass as renewable energy under the rules of Initiative 937, which in 2006 required the creation of renewable energy but failed to take into account the growing biomass industry.

In addition to addressing qualified biomass energy, SB 5575 would add several biomass fuels to the I-937 list of eligible renewable resources, including organic by-products of pulping and the wood manufacturing process, also known as black liquor. Hatfield says that affects more than 1,000 jobs at the Longview Fiber facility.

“Since pulping liquors are not qualified as renewable resources under I-937, they can’t bid on requests for proposals seeking renewable energy and that puts them at a huge disadvantage,” said Hatfield. “Several states consider pulping liquors as renewable, so why not Washington?”