Clark County district heating project worth millions in benefits

By Lisa Gibson | August 16, 2011

Over the 20-year term of its proposed biomass combined-heat-and-power plant, Clark County, Wash., will receive a total benefit of more than $11 million and be capable of extending the life of its existing equipment, according to Clark County. The resulting savings for taxpayers isn’t bad either.

The project is expected to produce between 3.5 and 4.9 megawatts for sale to the grid, along with heat for about five downtown buildings in the city of Vancouver, Wash. The facility will require about 44,000 bone dry tons of woody biomass per year, with supply contracts in the works. Developer Clark County and its partner Schneider Electric are also researching the option of using liquid biofuel in the biomass supply trucks to further decrease the project’s carbon footprint.

Schneider Electric is on schedule with a survey of potential power purchasers, expecting to begin negotiating in September. Interconnection agreements, however, are about one week behind schedule, according to the county. An application will be submitted to Clark Public Utilities through the Bonneville Power Administration this week and technical team members for the project are in regular communication with Clark Public Utilities. “Based on preliminary information received from CPU, the existing power lines buried within blocks of the site (12.47 kilovolts) and their supporting substation have adequate capacity to accept the proposed power from the plant,” the partners wrote in a project update.

The engineering team is on schedule with its tasks, evaluating options for equipment and layout within the facility and into the county buildings with input from county operations staff, according to the update. Once decisions on equipment are final, more detailed information will be provided about costs and emissions.

The project has one hitch with the chosen location, as the city of Vancouver last week ruled that the site is not zoned for a biomass combined-heat-and-power plant. The county already owns the site and plans to lease it to Schneider, which will operate and maintain the plant. It is zoned for commercial and light industrial use, but since the term doesn’t explicitly specify biomass district heating and cooling, the city determined that the plant is not a permitted use there, according to Marlia Jenkins, Clark County program development manager. Schneider Electric will file an appeal early this week, but Jenkins does not expect a delay in development, as an appeal element was figured into the project timeline.

While the city might have made its zoning decision based on some concerns with the project raised by citizens and city council members, the biomass plant has the support of the Washington Farm Forestry Association and the Neighborhood Association of Clark County. The project team also continues active outreach to community leaders, business groups, unions and others.