R&R biomass project awaits public hearing

A $5 million biomass plant at the Rough & Ready Lumber Co. is quickly becoming a reality.

“It’s the end of a long process,” said R&R President “Link” Phillippi.

An Oregon Dept. of Environmental Quality (DEQ) informational workshop for the project permit was held on Wednesday, May 23 at Lorna Byrne Middle School. A formal public hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, May 30 at 6:30 p.m. at LBMS. Once that hearing is completed, Phillippi said, a permit may be issued within the next few weeks.

Under the proposal, R&R would replace its existing wood-fired boiler with a newer one with twice the capacity, Phillippi said.

Market forces have caused a greater demand for dry lumber, which prompted R&R to seek ways to produce more steam to aid that process.

“From a business sense, the company for many years has needed to increase its boiler capacity,” Phillippi said.

However, the necessary equipment upgrade proved to be cost-prohibitive.

“It’s a huge capital expense,” Phillippi said, “that’s unaffordable for a business our size.”

That all began changing in 2005, when rising fuel costs and environmental concerns created demand for alternative energy. The U.S. government, along with state governments, adopted new programs to encourage biomass and other similar energy sources. As such, grants and other incentives began to appear, which made it easier for R&R to pursue its plant.

Not that it was easy.

“There were a lot of hoops we had to jump through to make it happen,” Phillippi said. “It’s a lot of work, and a lot of forms.”

Part of the paperwork included air quality analysis to measure the plant’s potential emissions and its effects on a 13-kilometer radius of the facility. R&R hired consultants to create air dispensation models, with three separate boiler operating scenarios, and submitted the results to DEQ.

Nitrogen oxide levels were exceeded at all three scenarios, which prompted a study of the effects on six areas within a 48-kilometer radius. The Kalmiopsis Wilderness area, located 12 kilometers from R&R, was modeled separately.

The results of those tests were successful, as well as a visibility analysis for the Kalmiopsis, in which “plume blight” was measured.

Phillippi said he is pleased that the plant plan met the standards set forth by federal and state regulatory agencies.

“It was a real learning experience,” Phillippi said. “But we’ve done everything we’re supposed to have done, and more.”

If issued, the permit would expire on June 1, 2012, and Phillippi said he would hope to have the plant operational by September or October of this year.

“It’s a triple win,” Phillippi said. “It will provide renewable power, forest restoration and jobs.”