Second neighborhood opposes biomass plant

Esther Short residents express concern

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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Vancouver’s Esther Short Neighborhood Association voted unanimously to oppose Clark County’s proposed biomass plant downtown, joining the Hough neighborhood group in raising concerns about emissions and pollution near residences.

“There are significant concerns regarding the emissions of a biomass burning boiler upwind of most of the residential property in our neighborhood,” Esther Short Neighborhood Association President Paula Person wrote Monday. “County staff has been unable to provide an estimate of the quantities of the various compounds that will be discharged into the local environment.”

The opposition on biomass from residents continues as the county prepares to move forward in its plans to build a privately operated, publicly owned electricity plant at the corner of West 11th and Harney streets.

On July 12, Clark County Commissioners Tom Mielke and Marc Boldt picked a private partner, Schneider Electric, to move forward with plans.

Commissioner Steve Stuart objected to the agreement, citing a list of concerns including whether the partner will be able to sell the power it produces.

The agreement says Schneider Electric will spend $1 million to $1.2 million over the next three months on final due diligence for the plant, which would burn the woody byproducts of logging to create power.

Stuart said he was uneasy with putting the county’s money on the line, as the agreement puts the county on the hook for up to $395,000 if certain conditions, including several market forces, fall through.

While Mielke voted for the agreement, last week he expressed many of the same concerns cited by Stuart.

Power unneeded?

The plant would heat and cool five county buildings, including the Public Service Center and the jail. Schneider Electric would lease the plant from the county and sell the extra power the 5 megawatt boiler is expected to produce.

The Esther Short Neighborhood Association said the biomass plant is roughly 20 times larger than necessary to heat and cool the county’s buildings, and that extra size will be reflected in the plant’s emissions.

“It seems that Schneider Electric, the private partner, will reap significant profits through renewable energy credits while the county will receive heating and cooling for roughly the same cost that it has now with its existing heating and cooling systems,” Person wrote.

Several members of the Vancouver City Council have also expressed their concerns about biomass, but it remains to be seen if they will have a chance to weigh in on the matter.

The county contends that such burning of biomass is a permitted use in a light industrial zone; Vancouver planners have responded that their initial interpretation of the zoning laws shows it is not. Attorneys for Schneider Electric have asked for an official review.

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542 or andrea.damewood@columbian.com or www.facebook.com/reporterdamewood or www.twitter.com/col_cityhall.