Three Puget Sound-area conservation groups have dropped their challenge to construction of a biomass energy expansion at Longview Fibre Paper and Packaging, the largest of its kind in the state.
The road is now clear to build the plant, which would employ 15 to 20 contract workers and generate 54 megawatts for sale on the open market. The project will make the Longview plant more profitable and also could help the Cowlitz PUD meet state renewable energy mandates, company and utility officials said Friday.
On. Jan. 4, No Biomass Burn, the World Temperate Rainforest Network and the Olympic Environmental Council filed notice with the state's Pollution Control Hearings Board to dismiss their appeal, ending a six-month standoff, according to the state Department of Ecology.
Ecology had approved the company's permit application last June, and No Biomass Burn appealed almost immediately. The group argued that burning wood waste — a practice that has gone on for decades under the term "hog fuel" — emits harmful particulates and high levels of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.
Duff Badgley, a spokesman for leading opponent and Seattle-based No Biomass Burn, did not return a call seeking comment about why the group dropped its appeal.
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.
The company expects to complete the overall project in phases sometime in 2015, Taydas said.
Longview Fibre's project will also help Cowlitz PUD meet the renewable energy standards of voter-approved Initiative 972, PUD spokesman Dave Andrew said. By 2016, 9 percent of the PUD's output must come from renewables, which could include biomass purchases from Longview Fibre, he said.
The company already produces about 32 megawatts of biomass energy at its Longview plant by burning waste wood, such as tree tops and saw dust, to power the boilers. The company started selling renewable energy credits in October to utilities in the region, Taydas said.
The power sales would add value to a company placed on the sales block a year ago by its owner, Toronto-based Brookfield Asset Management, according to a January 2010 Reuters report. The British press agency reported that Longview Fibre was worth between $500 million and $700 million.
Longview Fibre started preliminary work on the project last June, including engineering, construction work on pollution control equipment and modifications to a power boiler, Taydas said.
Company officials have declined to release the cost of the project. A previously rejected plan to build a new boiler and generate 65 megawatts of power would have cost $100 million, according to the company.