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County biomass project progressing

DUFFY HAYES
summit daily news

SUMMIT COUNTY ” One by one, concerns about a proposed wood-fired biomass plant at the County Commons near Frisco are falling by the wayside.

But it’s the public’s turn now to raise issues and concerns over the ambitious proposed project.

County commissioners have set the project wheels in motion for construction of a biofuels facility that would burn wood waste and slash from local forests, generating heat for most of the County Commons buildings, the new Medical Office Building (MOB), as well as the new hospital built on the site.

Tuesday, an air-quality specialist hired to study the impact a wood-burning biofuels facility would have on the local environment answered some lingering questions county commissioners had about the project.

Atop that list of questions was what amount of pollutants ” or particulate matter, as it’s called ” would be belched into Summit County’s skies and water sources.

Howard Gebhart, of Air Resource Specialists Inc. (ARS), estimated that in the “worst case” scenario, the County Commons biofuels plant would emit around 26 micrograms per cubic meter on average. In lay terms, that’s about 17 percent of the allowable amount described by national standards for healthy breathing and clean air.

Gebhart, however, pinned a “reasonable project estimate” at around 13 micrograms per cubic meter ” even further below the National Ambient Air Quality standards of 150 micrograms per cubic meter.

For commissioners, that emissions level isn’t low enough, it seems. Commissioner Bob French in particular expressed a desire for the project to meet even stricter air-quality standards. Ideally, the project would meet what’s called Class 1 air-quality standards, usually reserved for creating “pristine air sheds” in and around national park areas. In order to get to Class 1, the project’s emissions would need to be closer to 8 micrograms per cubic meter.

Gebhart told commissioners he thought that was possible. By adding “scrubbing” technology to the project (at an estimated cost of $75,000 to $100,000 per plant), the project could cut emissions to near the Class 1 level.

Along those same lines, commissioners were also anxious to learn more about the visibility of the plant’s emissions ” would a dual stack rising above the trees at the County Commons spew black smoke all across the horizon?

Gebhart minimized commissioner concerns here as well, saying the emissions plume would “hardly be visible at all.”

He cited state “opacity” requirements, which allow for a maximum of 20 percent of light to be blocked by smoke in the air. His opacity estimates for Summit County’s plant were well below that number ” in a range of just 1.2 percent and 1.5 percent opacities.

Visible water vapor, however, is still an outstanding issue. While harmless as a pollutant, in cold climates and high altitudes vapor can be much more visible, as Commissioner Tom Long noted.

Another lingering question addressed Tuesday were the levels of mercury that would be emitted by the new biofuels plant ” a question further raised by the Frisco Town Council, as evidenced by Frisco town manager Michael Penny’s attendance at the Tuesday meeting.

Gebhart allayed those fears as well, estimating that just 0.179 pounds of the deadly element would be emitted on average. Even if all of that amount were to be deposited in Dillon Reservoir, it would still be just 1/10,000th of the allowable water quality limit for mercury.

Additionally, county special projects manager Steve Hill took on the question of how emissions from a biofuels plant would compare with the traditional output from wood-burning stoves, as well as common campground fires.

Using a 2,000-square-foot home heated with a non-EPA rated stove as a frame of reference, Hill estimated that 2.25 such homes would emit as much particulate matter on average as the entire proposed two-boiler project.

As to campfires, the level of particulates emitted by common fires is 19 times more than the proposed boiler for the MOB and hospital; 14 times as much as the boiler proposed for the County Commons.

Satisfied that many of their questions had been answered, commissioners Tuesday agreed to move the process along. Next up on the planning agenda is public commentary, and a meeting has been set for Wednesday, Feb. 15, at 5:30 p.m. at the Summit County Community and Senior Center near Frisco.

Residents in the Bill’s Ranch and Water Dance subdivisions have the most at stake, and are particularly encouraged to attend.

At the meeting, people will get their chance to grill town officials as well as ARS’ Gebhart regarding the impact studies that have been completed so far. Studies are also posted on the county’s website with all the necessary data residents will need to get up to speed on the proposed project.

The timeline for the project is still to be hammered out, but commissioners are steadfast to keep a schedule that would have the biofuels plant up and running for the 2007-2008 winter. If after the public process no serious concerns are raised, the county will announce a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the plant’s performance contract. A vendor will be selected after that, who will then create a plan based on all of the studies done and all of the requirements put forth by commissioners and citizens. The permit process and eventual building are likely to begin in 2007, if all goes according to commissioners’ plan.

Duffy Hayes can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13611, or at dhayes@summitdaily.com.

– When: Wednesday, Feb. 15, at 5:30 p.m.

– Where: Summit County Community and Senior Center, near Frisco

– Promotes fire resilience by providing beneficial use of wood waste

and slash;

– Diverts wood waste from the Summit County landfill;

– Promotes energy independence and sustainability;

– Minimizes exposure to fluctuating energy markets, and

– Reduces greenhouse gas emissions.


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