State approves prison biomass plant

The Board of Examiners unanimously approved a $6.5 million contract Tuesday that will free Northern Nevada Correctional Center from electric and natural gas bills.

The contract with APS Energy Services is for installing a wood-fired power plant at the prison to replace the electricity and natural gas the state now purchases from Sierra Pacific Power Co.

Prison officials originally planned to operate the furnaces by burning wood chips from nearby federal forest-clearing projects 24 hours a day then to sell the excess energy to the power company. But area residents, concerned the plant would be dumping pollution into the air near their homes, complained to Carson City supervisors, who conditioned the plant permits on cutting the amount of particulate matter in half.

Engineers initially balked, saying the plant is already producing half the emissions allowed in the federal regulations. Lori Bagwell of the Department of Corrections said they have since found a piece of equipment that will cut emissions somewhat. She said any further reductions to meet that goal can be made by reducing the plant's hours of operation.

"We only need about 12 hours a day of operation to produce enough energy for NNCC," Bagwell said after the meeting.

Once the plant is installed and operating for 18 months, she said area residents will see for themselves that it doesn't produce clouds of pollution. Bagwell said the high-tech plant burns wood chips at extremely high temperatures, producing a lot of heat but very little pollution.

"They will see nothing," she said.

She told the board - consisting of Gov. Kenny Guinn, Secretary of State Dean Heller and Attorney General Brian Sandoval - a similar plant is already operating in White Pine County, producing heat and electric power for Ely Middle School.

Even operating part-time, the plant will produce about $386,000 a year in revenue to the state for the next 15 years. After that, the plant will be paid off, and, she said, the state will see an estimated $4 million in profit over the following five years.

The only time the prison at the south end of Carson City will need gas or electric power from Sierra Pacific will be during the seven days each year the plant is shut down for required maintenance on the furnaces and boilers.

Bagwell said federal officials are enthusiastic supporters of the proposed plant because it will efficiently and cleanly dispose of large quantities of forest refuse and underbrush being cleared from the Sierra Nevada to reduce fire hazards. She said they have awarded the Department of Corrections two grants totaling $430,000 and agreed to provide the wood waste for free.

Bagwell said the primary fuel cost will be a contract with a local company to chip the waste so it will burn efficiently in the plant.

n Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.


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