The difficult equation of a biomass plant

Colorado's dying forests are amply evident along I-70.

Count Scott Fitzwilliams among the believers. The supervisor of Colorado’s White River National Forest, Fitzwilliams thinks somebody has figured out how to generate electricity by burning wood from Colorado’s aging forests.

A company called Eagle Valley Clean Energy LLC, seeks to build a biomass plant at Gypsum, drawing wood for its 33,000-squar-efoot plant in an area between Summit County and Aspen. The proposal is the most advanced of several proposals now moving forward in resort areas of the West after years of mostly sputtering.

“There are a couple of things that make me believe that this is for real, and this is a project proposal that has everything it takes to be successful,” he says.

Proper scale tops the list of essentials. Other companies have proposed up to 50 megawatts of production, drawing from the same general area of Colorado. Eagle Valley Clean Energy plans to produce 11.5 megawatts of electricity, of which 10 megawatts would be sold to Holy Cross Energy, the local electrical cooperative that serves the Vail, Aspen and Glenwood Springs area.

Forest Service representatives say there’s just too little biomass from national forests to sustain large-volume generation. Fitzwilliams says he has “junk” to sell, meaning that logs will go elsewhere, for 2X4s, but in biomass production that’s OK. The White River National Forest has plenty of branches and bark and what not—100,000 piles, most of which will be burned or left to rot if not retrieved for biomass production.

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Allen Best

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