Opening of Kremmling pellet plant just weeks away | SkyHiNews.com

Opening of Kremmling pellet plant just weeks away

Will Bublitz
Sky-Hi Daily News

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Designed to transform the beetle-killed trees of local forests into a clean-burning, affordable heating product, the Confluence Energy wood-pellet manufacturing plant in Kremmling is only weeks away from beginning production.

Located on the south side of town on State Highway 9 near the Colorado River bridge, the new pellet plant is still under construction. When it goes into operation, it will produce wood pellets that can be used in home heating stoves.

“Three-quarters of our plant’s steel structure is up and half of its siding is on,” said Tom McGarry, who with Mark Mathis are the co-owners of the Kremmling plant.

“About half of our equipment is already here. Things are happening quickly now.”

McGarry said the target date to begin “pressing pellets” at the plant is mid-March. The only factor that could possibly slow things down is severe winter weather.

“We began pouring concrete Thanksgiving weekend and we’ve been working through the winter,” McGarry said. “All the snow we’ve been getting has presented its own challenges, but we’re optimistic.”

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A sign of that optimism is the tons of logs that have already been stockpiled at the plant site.

“We began bringing in the feeder stock in August after we bought the ground,” McGarry said. “Once we’re set up, there will be a testing period of about two weeks to be sure all the equipment is working together. Then we’ll go into full production.”

Once ready, the Kremmling plant will begin operating with two pellet mills, which is expected to produce 80,000 tons of wood pellets on an annual basis. Mathis and McGarry have future plans to set up a third mill on the site that could produce another 40,000 tons annually.

“We’ll be producing pellets 24/7, 365 days a year,” McGarry said. “All of our night work will be done inside the plant and no equipment will be operating outside after dark. That was part of our agreement with the town.”

The opening of the Confluence Energy plant is expected to boost the Kremmling economy.

“We will be employing 18 to 20 people at the plant once we’re up and running,” McGarry said. “And that’s not counting all those involved in the in-woods harvesting of logs, log hauling, making pallets and the distribution of the finished product.”

Wood heating pellets are pebble-sized pellets made from compressed dried wood. In this country, they are currently used in specially designed home heating stoves.

“Our first product will be a premium white pellet that meets PFI (Pellet Fuel Institute) standards,” McGarry said. “Forty-pound bags of pellets are currently sold across the country in big-box stores, grocery stores, farm-and-ranch stores, and feed stores.”

Over the past 30 years, the technology of wood pellet stoves has greatly improved their efficiency, making them very safe, clean-burning and an affordable means of home heating.

“They are so clean that here in Colorado, these stoves truly meet EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) standards and no exemptions have to be given to them,” McGarry said. “They are so clean burning that they are used on restricted or no-burn days in Denver. And they are safe. Unlike old wood stoves that retain heat, the pellet stoves are safe to touch and blow the heat out into the room.”

On top of all those advantages, the pellet stoves also provide a significantly cheaper way to heat homes.

“There is a very high demand for pellets now with the energy crunch,” McGarry said. “And its very affordable compared to the alternatives including electric, propane and natural gas.”

In addition to its main wood-pellet product, the Confluence Energy plant will also be manufacturing by-products.

“Although we will be operating year round, wood pellets for home heating is a seasonal business,” McGarry said. “As a by-product of our pellet production, we’ll be making related products such as mulch, horse-bedding material and cat litter. That will be a good offset for us.”

Once completed, Kremmling’s Confluence Energy mill will be unique among the pellet plants across the country in that it will manufacture pellets from whole tree logs.

“All of our sister plants are backlot operations using sawdust or wood chips to produce the pellets,” McGarry said. “With the current downturn in the housing market across the nation, that’s a saving grace for us because we won’t have to rely on related industries for our feeder stock. In addition, 95 percent of the logs we’ll be using here will be lodgepole pine which will give us a real consistent product.”

The “feeder stock” for the Kremmling plant will be pine-beetle ravaged forests of Grand and surrounding counties. Cutting down those dead and dying trees will help reduce the possibility of devastating wildfires in the local area.

“There are federal and state grants coming out to help HOAs and communities to deal with all their dead beetle-killed trees,” McGarry said. “We should be able to help stretch those grant dollars by buying their non-merchandiseable timber which is less than 10 inches in diameter.”

Another advantage to the local area of having an operating pellet plant in Kremmling will be reducing the need to burn slash to eliminate the unwanted beetle-killed trees.

“By next winter, there will be less need for burning slash or wood chipping because we’ll be taking the wood,” McGarry said. “The air pollution from slash burning is to no one’s advantage. We’ll also be able to help alleviate some of slash that ends up going to the landfills.”

As the opening of their plant nears, Mathis and McGarry want to express their thanks to the government agencies that have helped pave the way for the start of their business in Kremmling.

“We have had tremendous help and input from the U.S. Forest Service and the BLM,” McGarry said. “They have really wanted this plant to happen. We’ve also gotten good input from the State Forester and the CSU Forestry School.”

In addition to these state and federal agencies, Mathis and McGarry are also thankful to several local entities.

“We have had great cooperation from the Town of Kremmling, the Grand County Commissioners and the county’s Building Department,” McGarry said. “We also want to thank the Kremmling Fire Department. We are looking at doing our water to benefit the town in helping upgrade their water system. And we want to express our thanks to Guarantee Bank of Longmont for our financing.”

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