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Vail biomass grant looks promising

LAUREN GLENDENNINGvail daily
AP Photo/National Renewable Energy Laboratory
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VAIL -It has been nearly a year since a private development firm applied for a $26 million federal grant to build a 28-megawatt biomass plant in Vail, and now the chances of getting that money are looking good. The firm, Hayden, Cary & King, Co., is one of three remaining applicants standing after the U.S. Department of Energy’s elimination of almost 80 others. The town, along with Holy Cross Energy, Vail Resorts, the U.S. Forest Service and others, helped prepare the application for a combined heat and power facility that backers say would have positive effects on everything from energy consumption to the pine beetle epidemic to wildfire and watershed threats. Kristen Bertuglia, the town of Vail’s environmental sustainability coordinator, said the latest news that the project has been selected by the Forest Service and the U.S. Department of Energy as a priority project is encouraging.”There’s lots of excitement around this project,” Bertuglia said. “It’s in the final rounds of review with the Department of Energy and we’re hoping to hear immanently whether we’d be offered $26 million to build the facility.”Bertuglia and Andrew King, principal at Hayden, Cary & King, Co., are presenting an update to the Vail Town Council Tuesday night about the project’s potential, as well as what it would cost the town. Biomass, which uses organic material made from plants and animals to create energy, is a good renewable energy resource for Vail because of several reasons, according to Hayden, Cary & King, Co., with the most prevalent being the pine beetle epidemic.The facility would have direct environmental benefits for local air quality and watersheds, and indirect economic benefits like jobs and renewable energy, according to data to be presented Tuesday. If and when the project gets approval, it won’t be easy to build it or ensure that it’s viable, though. There are problems with the high costs of getting beetle kill trees out of the forest due to both rugged terrain and a slowing local logging industry. Wilderness and roadless areas could also pose major obstacles. The project could, however, help the town get closer to its goal to reduce town energy consumption by 20 percent by 2020, along with the benefits for the local watershed and wildfire mitigation efforts. If the grant is approved and the town of Vail decides it wants the project, the project would have to go through the town’s development application process, which includes the Planning and Environmental Commission, the Design Review Board and the Town Council, along with other approvals required by the town.Lauren Glendenning can be reached at lglendenning@vaildaily.com.


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