Friday, August 14, 2020
Aug. 14, 2020

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County still eyes biomass plant

Private firm would likely be sought to serve as partner

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County commissioners were given an update Wednesday on a proposed biomass-fueled power plant in downtown Vancouver.

Mark McCauley, the county’s general services manager, said a number of large, well-financed companies are interested in forming a partnership with the county to build and operate the plant.

He said the county would pay about $210,000 per year for renewable energy, comparable to what it currently pays for natural gas.

He said the county would save approximately $100,000 a year by cutting back its use of massive chiller units, which are part of the air conditioning system.

In addition the county would charge $75,000 a year to the company to lease the land.

Last summer, commissioners agreed to spend $225,000 from a federal energy block grant on studying the feasibility of a biomass boiler system (fueled by tree tops, limbs and the detritus of producing lumber) that would provide central heating, cooling and domestic hot water for five county buildings: the Public Service Center, courthouse, jail, 911 center and juvenile courthouse.

No final decision has been made on whether to go ahead with the four- or five-story plant, but McCauley will ask the board on April 20 to decide whether the county should put out a formal request for a business partner.

Commissioners plan to discuss the topic during a meeting with the Vancouver City Council on April 11.

The city would have to approve a zone change and permits for the plant, which the county would like to put on the corner of West 13th and Harney streets, west of the Clark County Jail.

The site is currently occupied by a parking lot reserved for people serving jury duty. The county bought the lot and the rest of the block five years ago from the Corwin Beverage Co. after it moved its operations to Ridgefield.

McCauley said another parking lot would be provided for jurors.

McCauley said the plant would meet all clean-air standards, create construction and forest jobs and reduce county government’s carbon footprint.

He said the private partner would have to have bonding capability for the project, which has an estimated cost of $25 million.

He told commissioners that the private-public partnership would be designed to mitigate county risk, and the private company would own, operate and maintain the facility.

He said that in addition to heat and cool water, the plant would generate up to 4.9 megawatts of electricity, which the plant owners would sell.

McCauley said companies are interested in the project because they would receive renewable energy credits.

Commissioner Steve Stuart said he has heard several concerns about the project.

Truck traffic is one.

McCauley said 12 trucks passed him by on Mill Plain Boulevard Wednesday morning in a span of two minutes. Since the boulevard serves as the main route between the Port of Vancouver and Interstate 5, the estimated five to seven truck daily truck trips generated by a biomass plant would not make a noticeable difference, McCauley said.

And the rumor of a 200-foot tower belching smoke?

McCauley said the plant would be 40 to 50 feet tall (by comparison, the six-story Public Service Center is 100 feet tall) and the smokestack would be 10 feet taller than the building.

There are ways to minimize the vapors that would be expelled, he said.

McCauley also reassured commissioners that consultants have involved the Southwest Clean Air Agency in discussions about the proposal.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.

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