Biomass plant at prison still a go despite new restriction

Engineers working on a proposed South Carson City wood-fired power plant are optimistic they'll be able meet tough emission standards imposed by Carson City supervisors last month, they just don't know exactly how.

"We feel it can still be done, but we haven't finished the engineering work yet," said Jay Johnson, an official with the engineering firm designing a biomass power plant for Northern Nevada Correctional Center, APS Energy Services.

When first proposed, the project was hailed as a boon for taxpayers, the prison for which the plant would provide power, and efforts to thin forests in the fire-ripe Sierra Nevada.

Prison officials and project engineers said the small-scale power plant would save taxpayers $3 million in today's dollars over its 20-year to 30-year lifespan while lessening the state's dependence on the volatile power market and the foreign oil it depends upon. Forest officials said such a plant would be the best, cleanest way to dispose of unusable limber harvested from overgrown woodlands.

A group of South Carson residents living near the prison, however, aren't keen on the idea of anything burning 24 hours a day next to their neighborhood. The group challenged engineers' claims that the plant would not be a health hazard, saying no matter how far below federal air quality standards the plant might be, there were still ways to make it cleaner.

Projections from a state model suggest the plant will produce emissions 99 percent below federal standards in most categories. The highest pollutant from the plant would be particulate matter, according to estimates.

The plant is projected to release 253 pounds of tiny particles into the atmosphere each day, about 49 percent less than federal regulations require.

Neighbors asked for engineers to reduce the plant's particulate emissions by 90 percent, when they appealed the planning commission's approval of the project to the board of supervisors late last month.

Supervisors compromised, approving the project on condition of a 50 percent particulate reduction.

"I'm happy they did anything," said Scott Leftwich, one of the first area residents to voice concerns over the project. "I really applaud supervisors (Pete) Livermore, (Richard) Staub, and our mayor for stepping up."

At the supervisors' meeting, engineering consultants said it would be difficult to deliver even a 30 percent decrease.

There are several technologies designed to reduce emissions from all manner of boilers, from scrubbers to filers. But most are expensive and buying them for the plant could nullify the money-saving reason to build it in the first place.

Johnson said APS Energy Services is still researching different emission-reducing equipment to find the most best fit.

The Nevada State Board of Examiners is scheduled to consider a contract proposal for the state-funded project on Tuesday.

n Contact reporter Cory McConnell at or 881-1217.


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