Wind River Biomass Utility wins $200,000 grant for CHP plant

By Katie Fletcher | September 05, 2014

At a former nursery site—surrounded by federal, state and private timberland in need of thinning in Skamania County, Washington—an opportunity arose for Wind River Biomass Utility LLC to build a combined-heat-and-power (CHP) generation plant. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee recently announced a $200,000 grant to the company, which will be used to purchase equipment for the proposed facility. The project will produce clean energy from previously discarded forest biomass—the wood debris left over from timber harvesting, thinning and treatments that maintain healthy timber lands and prevent forest fires.

A priority in Washington is to create a market for this woody biomass to underrate the cost of performing effective forest health treatments. This CHP project will “create demand for forest ‘waste’ in order to help timberland owners—especially the U.S. Forest Service—increase revenue, so that they can afford more resource management work,” said Paul Spencer, managing partner with Wind River Biomass Utility.

The State Department of Commerce’s federally-funded Forest Products Financial Assistance Program provided the grant money. The program is reserved for economic developed and job creation in rural, timber-dependent communities.

The plant’s use of forest debris is also aimed at assisting with environmental health and hazards linked to these forest-surrounded community. “It (the plant) is not too far from where we get our worst forest fires,” said Peter Moulton, state bioenergy coordinator. “This is one of the primary motivating factors to create a market for harvest debris and commercial thinning and forest health treatments because of our fire problems.”

The facility is being phased into capacity to combat the challenge of competing against traditionally inexpensive electricity and natural gas in the northeast. The eventual target is 2 MWe and 5 MW equivalent thermal sourcing 18,000 bone dry tons (BDT) of woody biomass. The approximately $2 million development of phase one is expected to produce 400 kWe and 2 to 3 MW thermal, taking in about 6,000 BDT.

The initial phase will use acquired, unused hardware from a bankrupt project in Massachusetts. A Chiptec gasifier with a thermal-oil heat-exchanger and an ORC turbine of currently unknown provenance will be used. “They got it for roughly 20 cents on a dollar,” Moulton said. “This was just a rare opportunity to jump ahead a few steps, and so that’s why we are helping them acquire the hardware.”

Wind River has been working with partners at all levels of government for the project, including the Port of Skamania County, Skamania County Public Utility District and the USFS. Additionally, studies have been conducted with Gorge Grown, a greenhouse operation supplying the Portland food market, in an effort to identify opportunities to build the facility co-located with a greenhouse and nursery business.

Strong County interest in developing a business park at the former nursery site was one of the reasons for the location of the proposed project. The site also lends substantial infrastructure for greenhouses, and an end-of-the-line for PUD cable with an underutilized 12.5 kV line that goes straight to a Bonneville Power Administration substation.

The CHP plant is expected to help in developing a market for woody biomass in the southern Gifford-Pinchot National Forest and nearby public and private forestlands. The facility will also create an estimated 10 jobs with associated manufacturing in the plant and timber jobs in nearby forestlands. If the greenhouse and nursery business is co-located at the site this would bring more jobs at a later date.

Although the company is focused in the near term on one manufacturing process to begin operation next summer, “daydreaming includes biochar and treated syngas into an internal combustion system,” Spencer said. “We are all about efficiency, sustainability and community.”