Clark County, Wash., appeals city zoning ruling

By Lisa Gibson | August 08, 2011

Southwestern Washington’s Clark County has hit a road bump in its plan to build a biomass district combined-heat-and-power plant in downtown Vancouver. The city has declared that the site zoning prohibits such facilities, but the county is undeterred and will appeal the decision.

The site, already owned by the county, is zoned for commercial and light industrial overlay, according to Clark County program development manager Marlia Jenkins. Because “light industrial” does not explicitly specify biomass district heating and cooling plants, the county submitted reasoning for its inclusion, but the city still determined that the plant is not a permitted use there, she added.

“We will be appealing this to a hearing examiner,” Jenkins said. “We will be trying to make our case for the second time that this is no different from the 130 other light industrial uses permitted on that site.” If the hearing examiner—an attorney hired to hear land use issues—rules against the county, the project may have to be reconsidered, she said, adding that the process should be completed by November.

Concerns about the plant have arisen in the neighborhood and city council, so Jenkins said it’s no surprise the city took the conservative route with the lot ruling, but the concerns were not unexpected by Clark County planners. In fact, the county figured an appeals process into its development plans, fully expecting it would need it, Jenkins said.

The plant is expected to produce between 3.5 and 4.9 megawatts of power for sale to the grid through project partner Schneider Electric, as well as heat for about five downtown county-owned buildings. Schneider will operate and maintain the facility, leasing the site from the county, Jenkins said. The facility will require about 44,000 bone dry tons of woody biomass per year.

Schneider is currently doing due diligence on the project, including fuel supply and financing, Jenkins said. The facility would save the county about $175,000 per year in operating costs on its chillers and lower prices paid to Schneider for the hot and cool water, not to mention the land lease revenue.