County steps forward with biomass project

Lori Simpson, chairwoman of the board of supervisors, said that she has been on the board for nine years and that entire time the board has been discussing biofuels. “Now, we have the whole package,” she said. “A non-profit went out and acquired a grant to help pay for the system.”

“Yes there is a certain amount of risk,” she added, “However, I ask myself, ‘Am I going to be a visionary?’”

Simpson declared, “I think this is a great opportunity. We are going to be the showcase for the state. I don’t want to lose this opportunity.”

The board voted 4 to 1 on Aug. 1 (Supervisor Sherrie Thrall cast the no vote) to sign contracts with the Sierra Institute to build and run a $2.6 million biomass plant to heat the Plumas County Health and Human Services building. The facility will also sell electricity to FRC and back to PG&E.

Andrew Haden, president of Wisewood Energy, the entity building the plant, said. “We anticipate starting work next week. Our goal is to have the system up and running by the time snow flies this winter.”

“Triple redundancy” backup

Haden said the project has “triple redundancy” backup. The biomass boiler will provide most of the heat for the building in the winter.

A propane system will provide heat to warm up the building in spring and fall when it doesn’t make sense to start up the biomass system.

The building is currently heated by geothermal energy from a series of heat pumps in the ground. The geothermal system lacked sufficient heat pumps when it was built, so those pumps that were in operation pumped too much heat out of the ground and were pulling cold air. They also needed to be replaced prematurely because they were running all the time.

With the biomass system taking over the bulk of the heating in winter, Haden said geothermal heat will return around the heat pumps and they will start pulling hot air again.

Finally, the building has an electric heating system, should all other systems fail.

Questions asked

Wisewood Energy will be operating the biomass system for a year for the Sierra Institute and working out any issues.

After the system is up and functioning, the system will be maintained by the Plumas County’s facility services department.

Supervisor, Sherrie Thrall, questioned whether facility services, which she said was already understaffed, would be able to take on the new biomass system as well.

Dony Sawchuk, director of facility services, said that his department was currently using two fulltime employees to keep the failing geothermal system going. He said he believed there would be a large savings in manpower for his department with the new system.

Mark Mihevc, from Graeagle, questioned whether the energy and monetary savings promised by Wisewood were backed up in its spreadsheet. In an apparent misunderstanding, Mihevc thought that Wisewood had left out the energy costs of running the heat pumps, making the energy and monetary savings a loss instead.

Haden responded that the energy costs for running the fuel pumps were included. However, he said, since those costs were the same with both the current situation and with the proposed biofuel project, they weren’t shown.

Haden estimated the biomass plant would save $30,451 in heating costs per year as compared with the current geothermal system.

Haden said his company’s estimate of savings utilized conservative numbers. He said a plant they built in Burns, Oregon saved much more money than estimated.

Haden said of his company, which has built other state-of-the-art biomass energy systems, “Our approach is to under promise and over deliver.”

Haden estimated a 13-year payback on the county’s $400,000 investment and the biomass plant will burn 400-500 tons of local wood a year.

Hayden also displayed a graph that compared the emissions from burning wood biomass in the forests and burning the same amount of biomass in its biomass boiler.

The biomass boiler emitted almost no carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds or 10 micrometer particles (1-3 percent) as compared with burning fires in the forest. The biomass boiler emitted 40 percent of nitrogen oxide emissions as compared to the piles.

Support for the project

Quincy Library Group co-founder and attorney Michael Jackson said, “We have been working on biomass for years and years and years. This is a well-designed project.”

Sue McCourt, of the Plumas County Office of Emergency Services, and Hannah Hepner, Plumas County Fire Safe Council coordinator, also advised the board to approve the project.

10 thoughts on “County steps forward with biomass project

  • August 14, 2017 at 8:42 am
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    Who authorized the failing geothermal system?

  • August 14, 2017 at 9:26 am
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    I have a logical question and hope I am not barred from commenting because of it like I have been barred on local pages on fb.
    In the research on the biomass project, have.there been any tests to analyze what eexactly has been sprayed on us for the last three years and is still happening every single day? And what happens when it is burned and re introduced into our air? I think that should be a critical consideration. Look up…this is important

  • August 14, 2017 at 9:33 am
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    Steve Wathen

  • August 14, 2017 at 9:35 am
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    Lori Simpson?

  • August 14, 2017 at 2:31 pm
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    It would be nice to get a response before this article gets pulled. Lori Simpson. The biomass fuel is loaded with whatever they are spraying on us. It has to be after three years of constant spraying. What is it and is it safe to burn and be realeased into our air that is already overloaded with particulates? Can you tell us this is safe? I dont think so.

  • August 14, 2017 at 3:28 pm
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    Lori Simpson….your comments sure make me wonder WHY you have pushed this project….it appears you want to be some sort of a hero. What happens if this fails? Are you going to take responsibility then?
    And what exactly do you mean by….“Yes there is a certain amount of risk,” she added,

    And wow this comment is pretty disturbing…. “However, I ask myself, ‘Am I going to be a visionary?’”

    And did you push this for some kind of fame and recognition or for the good of our County?
    Simpson declared, “I think this is a great opportunity. We are going to be the showcase for the state. I don’t want to lose this opportunity.”

    “Yes there is a certain amount of risk,” she added, “Yes there is a certain amount of risk,” she added, “

    Simpson declared, “I think this is a great opportunity. We are going to be the showcase for the state. I don’t want to lose this opportunity.”

  • August 14, 2017 at 6:14 pm
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    Legitimate questions all the Plumas County Supervisors should have asked and pondered.

    So many questions and obviously not enough time to wait for all the answers!

    Watch out for snake oil salesmen!

    Thanks to Sherri Thrall for voting no on the project.

    Who is the manufacture of the Boiler?

    Is the boiler a fire tube or a water tube type boiler?

    What are the different state and/or federal regulations for each?

    What is the operating pressure of the boiler?

    At what operating pressure is round the clock supervision required?

    Will round the clock supervision be required on this boiler?

    What would this cost Plumas County annually?

    How much will the liability insurance for operation of boiler cost the county each year?

    Yes there will be special insurance coverage for all California boilers.

    Will the county operators of the boiler have to be licensed and/or certified?

    How much will that licensing and certification cost?

    How often will the operators have to be re-licensed and certified?

    How often will the boiler and boiler tubes have to be inspected?

    What do these inspections entail?

    Is a complete tear-down of the boiler required for any inspections?

    How much will the inspections cost Plumas County?

    How will excess oxygen in the water be dealt with so as not to cause boiler pitting?

    How much will this cost?

    What is the projected lifespan of the boiler?

    What is the projected lifespan of the burner?

    What are the replacement costs for boiler and burner?

    Can the burner be converted over to propane when the burner no longer works or is deemed impractical?

    If a conversion can be done, what will the cost be?

    What type of water treatment is required for the boiler, to keep scaling at a minimum?

    How much will the water treatment cost on an annual basis?

    Will the water treatment waste water be able to be discharged into the current water treatment plant?

    Will the waste water have to be contained on site before going to the treatment plant?

    What is the feed-water purity requirements for the boiler?

    Who will monitor the emissions?

    Are thermal oxidizers required?

    As a layman, I came up with the above questions.

    I am quite sure there are many more expert questions to be asked.

    In all likelihood our esteemed BOS did not have the courage to ask these and other questions before it was to late to reconsider.

    People can peruse the internet for inforemationon —

    California CA Boiler Laws and Codes.

    Pressure Vessel Unit regulations.

    Legacies are at stake !!!!

  • August 15, 2017 at 8:06 pm
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    My favorite part is Lori Simpson asking herself “Am I going to be a visionary? What a joke. You should of stepped down years ago. When was the last time you were on an airplane? Are you living in your childhood home? I think its time for someone with a lot broader life experience!

    • August 16, 2017 at 8:19 am
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      I just got todays paper….read “Supervisors debate what to do with Planning Commission” in which Simpson makes the remark to John Olafson…..”I JUST WANT TO REMIND THE COMMISSIONERS, YOU SERVE AT THE PLEASURE OF THE BOARD AND YOU CAN BE REMOVED AT THE PLEASURE OF THE BOARD” Good God….LMAO! Lori…calm down! YOU SERVE AT THE PLEASURE OF THE PEOPLE…AND YOU CAN BE REMOVED AT THE PLEASURE OF THE PEOPLE! And you should be! Grand Jury was right…we need to get some oversight here….I absolutely do not believe Lori Simpson should have the.power she holds…it has gone to her head! Get her outa there! How do we get rid of her quickly?

  • August 16, 2017 at 10:13 pm
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    I want to quickly respond to a few of the comments/questions posed above.

    ** Who authorized the failing geothermal system? It was part of the design of the building approved before any of the supervisors currently on the board were elected to the board. The failing geothermal system resulted from too few geothermal wells being drilled. It was partly due to resistant quartz rock through which contractors were trying to drill and cost overruns that led to a reduction in the number of wells drilled and ultimately a system that inadequately heats the building. Too few wells means that heat pumps must draw heat from increasingly cold water and, as a result, pumps are overtaxed and will break down prematurely, as they appear to be doing now, at costs ranging from $8,000-$12,000 per pump.

    *Spraying– Biomass is not sprayed. If you’re referring to herbicides, they are used with emergent vegetation and tree planting. Biomass will not be gathered from these areas. In fact, some biomass may be drawn from the work the Plumas County Fire Safe Council, which means such material will come from local backyards.

    Many good questions asked by Gary, but too many to respond to here! PLEASE KNOW THAT MANY OF THESE QUESTIONS HAVE BEEN ASKED, ADDRESSED, AND ANSWERED THROUGH THE 1.5 YEARS OF PLANNING AND PROJECT DEVELOPMENT. Know that engineers at the California Energy Commission also reviewed the proposal that listed the equipment to be used. They rated the proposal quite high, hence the funding award from the State of California. Again, extensive discussions and planning have been undertaken with Plumas County employees.

    **Regulatory agency with responsibility–Because of the size of the boiler, the State of California and specifically the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District are the responsible entities for emissions review. The Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District reviewed the specifications of the boiler and supported the project.

    ** Boiler manufacturer–Kohlbach. It was selected because of its quality, cleanliness, and reliability (http://www.kohlbach.at/en/company/a-family-business/).
    Here is the page on their website that covers the K8 model of boiler which is what will be installed as a part of this project.
    http://www.kohlbach.at/en/cetest-firstpage0/produkte/#en/cetest-firstpage0/produkte/feuerungen/system-k8/?print=

    **Regarding EMISSIONS, Kohlbach states:
    “The combustion systems from Kohlbach are already equipped with a pre-dedusting device for the flue gas located in a re-burning zone specially designed for the purpose. Further dedusting is implemented with multi-cyclones (centrifugal separators), electrostatic filters, fabric filter, etc. depending on the size of the plant and legal stipulations. Our systems comply with all legal regulations and subsidisation conditions for the reduction of emissions (the air pollution control act, BImSchV [solvent regulation], FAV, QM heating stations, etc.) – for the most part the emissions from our systems lie significantly below these threshold values.
    Variants
    Multi-cyclone: The dust is pre-separated here at < 150 mg/Nm³ (half-hour average value) by the principles of centrifugal separation.
    Flue gas scrubber: Just as with the multi-cyclone, the scrubber serves to remove dust, however the particles that form the dust can be reduced further by using a washing fluid than with the centrifugal separation.
    Electrostatic filter: This is used to remove dust up to a dust content of <10 mg/Nm³ (half-hour average value).
    Bag and fabric filter: Bag and fabric filters can be employed downstream to reduce the fine dust content further to < 5 mg/Nm³.
    SNCR injection or SCR catalysers: These are employed to reduce the NOx values in particularly sensitive and emission protected regions."

    **Boiler supervision–24 hour in-person monitoring not necessary; boilers will, however, be monitored remotely 24-7 and alarms will immediately notify operators if there is a malfunction. Automatic back-up operation will be provided by the new propane boiler installed as a part of the project and paid for by the California Energy Commission grant funds.

    **Propane. There is no plan to convert the boiler to propane.

    I hope the response above is helpful. I know all questions have not been answered. Again, many have been answered in detail at public meetings, planning meetings with the county, and meetings with the Board of Supervisors. Still, we're pleased to respond to questions. Call or write us directly. This is not the most efficient to respond via forums such as this. Perhaps we develop a blog post to respond. Let us know if that would be helpful.

    Jonathan Kusel, Executive Director of the Sierra Institute

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