Is Biomass Plant in N. Idaho's Future?
by Rocky Barker
Idaho Statesman, March 3, 2009
Areva, the French company that is expected to bring a boom to eastern Idaho's economy with a $2 billion uranium enrichment plant, has a plan to help North Idaho, too.
Some Idaho restaurants changed the name of many folks' favorite potatoes to "freedom fries" to express their unhappiness with our oldest ally's position on Iraq. But now this French energy company could become one of the state's most important businesses. Lafayette is back!
Areva has formed a joint venture with Duke Energy called Adage to develop wood waste biomass power plants. Adage is planning to have 12 biomass plants in construction or operating in the United States within the next five years. Each plant has an investment potential of about $200 million with 20-50 employees.
It has announced a partnership with Energy Northwest, a 24-member electric utility consortium to construct one or more 50 megawatt power plants that would burn wood to create energy.
It estimates it would create 100 to 150 new jobs between the plant operations and associated forestry work. The company told state and federal managers recently it believes it could build one or two plants in North Idaho.
Biomass power is considered carbon neutral since burning wood for generation emits carbon that is recycled through photosynthesis from growing trees. The use of biomass as fuel for power generation utilizes abundant renewable domestic resources and reduces dependence on imported fuels. Removing residual wood waste from forest floors will reduce fire hazards and improve the forest's long-term sustainability, foresters say.
Biomass power facilities also will help rural communities who are suffering economically and would create hundreds of new, green-collar jobs.
The challenge for a plant as large as Areva proposes is supply. It will need 50,000 acres a year or a million acres over the life of the plant to meet its demand, assuming it can get 10 tons of biomass per acre. The wood also has to come from a 50-mile radius or it will cost too much to ship to the plant.
Idaho's Panhandle clearly has, that but most of it is in national forests. Unless Areva or the Forest Service can negotiate with environmentalists and others a consensus plan to ensure the necessary supply, Areva can't depend on the national forests.
That means it will have to go to private forest lands owned by Plum Creek and Forest Capital Partners in the region and to Idaho state lands. They also could get some from smaller tracks of private forest and clearly will have some opportunity to get national forest wood on the side.
Part of the challenge for state lands is that they lie within some of the most important habitat for endangered mountain caribou and grizzly bears. Other state lands are in the view shed of scenic Priest Lake.
Areva's efforts challenge Idaho and the Forest Service to begin the kind of consensus discussions that will be necessary to make national forests a bankable source of fuel for this new energy source. Vive la France!
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