Forum incorporates pros and cons of Washington CHP project

By Lisa Gibson | May 25, 2011

A forum designed to inform without bias about a proposed biomass boiler at the Nippon Paper mill in Port Angeles, Wash., drew a crowd of about 60, including speakers and members of the host organization, The League of Women Voters of Clallam County.

The forum, held May 23 in Port Angeles, featured four speakers, two of whom are against the biomass project and two for, according to Nancy Esteb, president of the League of Women Voters of Clallam County. John Calhoun, president of the Clallam Economic Development Council, and Tom Swanson, vice president of Green Crow Corp., spoke in favor of biomass, while Bob Lynette, environmentalist, and Carrie Nyssen, regional director of Advocacy and Air Quality of the American Lung Association, spoke against it.

Nippon plans to replace an old biomass/oil boiler with a 20 megawatt combined-heat-and-power plant that will run on woody biomass including forest residuals. The $71 million project is expected to be ready for testing in the second quarter of 2012.

But concerns have been raised about burning biomass on Washington’s North Peninsula, particularly in the areas of forest health and human health, according to the league. The goal of the forum, co-sponsored by Peninsula College, was to mediate a balanced discussion about the project, Esteb said.

“The league regards its role as putting on informational forums, particularly on issues the league has not taken a position on,” she said, adding that she herself is on the fence about the project. While several attendees thanked the league and college for hosting the event, it was unclear whether the discussion changed any opinions, she said, including her own. “People really appreciate getting that kind of information. You don’t often hear both sides.” Personally, she has a hard time balancing the benefits of the project with the risks, she said.

The first 1½ hours of the forum consisted of speaker presentations, followed by one hour of audience questions. A good portion of time was spent discussing air quality issues such as wind patterns, but the forum discussion also included forest health in light of slash removal and heavy machinery use, soil quality impacts and economic contributions of the plant including job creation.

With so much misinformation and emotionally charged discussion surrounding the biomass power and thermal industries, such an event is refreshing and a nice change of pace. “I would say it was a success,” Esteb said.