Tuesday, September 02, 2008


Nacogdoches To Get Wood-Burning Power Plant
Outdoor Writer

After two stalled attempts and despite criticism, the Austin City Council Thursday unanimously agreed to a 20-year, $2.3 billion energy purchase agreement with a wood-fired power plant to be built near Sacul in western Nacogdoches County. 

The agreement allows developers Energy Management Inc., and BayCorp Holdings through their joint venture, Nac-ogdoches Power LLC to seek funding for the estimated $300 million facility. If funding for the 100-megawatt biomass facility is obtained before the end of the year, officials say construction could begin in early 2009. 

The Sacul biomass project would be the second facility using wood waste being developed in East Texas. Construction is set to begin on a 50-megawatt, $100-million plant near Lufkin in September. That project is being developed by Aspen Power LLC. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approved Aspen Power's air permit for its Lufkin facility in July. 

Interest in the project comes from Austin's goal of having 30 percent of the city's power coming from renewable resources by 2020. That plan calls for purchasing electricity from a variety of sources, including biomass. 

The Nacogdoches Power project was conceived when Energy Management Inc., and BayCorp Holdings bought the assets of a scrapped gas-fired plant that was to have been built on the site near Texas Highway 204. 

Like the Aspen Power facility, Nacogdoches Power's plant could be fired by any type of wood product including forest residue, mill residue, urban waste and whole trees. Operation of the plant that reportedly will produce enough power for 75,000 homes would require 1 million green tons of fuel per year. 

Robert Donahoe, vice president of Environmental Services for Energy Management, recently told the Tyler Paper that fuel for the plant would require 130 trucks per day, each truck carrying 25 to 30 tons of wood products. 

Despite some concerns that that amount of forest byproducts and waste wood existed nearby, Nacogdoches Power underwrote a study by Ad-vanced Ecology of Center that showed a reliable fuel source is available within a 75-mile radius of the plant's location. 

During an early Austin City Council meeting, a Texas Forest Service official said a 2005 study showed 3.8 million tons of logging residue and 6.3 million tons of mill residue was produced in East Texas. The TFS study doesn't take into account the additional urban waste that would be available to the plant. 

The energy purchase agreement continued to draw criticism in Austin because of its cost and concern that burning wood to fire the plant could make it environmentally neutral. 

Nacogdoches Power is promising top-of-the-line equipment for air quality. At an earlier meeting, Mark Holtzapple, a professor of chemical engineering at Texas A&M University who specializes in biofuels, told Austin officials that wood waste can generate carbon-neutral power because the amount of carbon released in burning is the same as that absorbed by trees as they grow. Also, he said, the burning of wood waste releases very little, if any, sulfur, which is often found in the air around fossil fuel plants. Ash produced by the plant can be filtered and put back onto the land as fertilizer. 

The energy purchase agreement was also opposed by the Texas Forest Industries Coun-cil, which represents paper and wood product companies in East Texas. TFIC officials said they were concerned about environment harm, but more importantly they question whether the wood fuel source is available without having to cut down trees. Some TFIC members' plants have been operating on mill residue for 50 years. As for residue from logging operations, the companies said that is often used to protect soil erosion and chipped to be used when replanting trees. 

According to a report in Friday's Austin American-Statesman, the contract with Nacogdoches Power mitigates Austin Energy's financial risk by specifying the utility will not have to pay for anything if it does not receive power from the facility and that the rate paid for the power will be contingent on availability and output at the plant. 

Also, if the cost of buying electricity from the plant exceeds $2.3 billion before the 20-year contract expires, Austin Energy can opt out of the contract. 

The American-Statesman also said the contract requires Nacogdoches Power to comply with Texas Forest Service best-management practices and current renewable energy credit requirements. 

Nacogdoches Power will also be required to make reports of its environmental protection efforts, including forestry practices and air- and water-quality effects. 


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