Vail biomass plant backer asks: Can dead trees be cut? | SkyHiNews.com

Vail biomass plant backer asks: Can dead trees be cut?

Scott N. Miller
Vail correspondent
Grand County, CO Colorado

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – Creating electricity and heat in Colorado’s Vail Valley from the region’s millions of beetle-killed trees sounds like a good idea. But there’s at least one very large stumbling block: fuel.

One of the partners in a venture that would build and operate a “biomass” plant in Vail Monday talked about the project with the Eagle County Commissioners. Andrew King, a partner in Hayden, Cory and King, told the commissioners that the company has applied for a $25 million federal grant to build the plant. He added that the company is also planning to move ahead with or without the grant.

The problem, he said, is long-term access to dead trees. While this part of the High Country has plenty of beetle-killed timber, much of it is either hard or impossible to get to, either because of steep slopes and no roads, or because the trees are in wilderness areas where commercial logging is prohibited.

If the company can get fuel, though, King said he’s confident the plant in Vail could be a hit.

Similar plants in Europe are profitable, King said, and if this plant could run at 80 percent efficiency, it would meet California’s strict air-quality regulations.

Responding to a question about traffic from Commissioner Peter Runyon, King said the plant would use about eight big truckloads of wood per day when operating full-blast.

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But where would those trucks come from?

That’s why King wanted to talk to the commissioners. If a steady supply of wood can be found within 50 to no more than 100 miles of the plant, the material would be brought to a site away from the plant, and the wood would be sorted into piles for biomass and other commercial uses.

At the moment, there’s a 50-plus acre site at the Eagle County Landfill that’s already been filled with trash and capped with dirt. That barren spot would be a perfect place to sort wood, King said.

But where will the wood come from?

“We need to do a comprehensive study, one that’s done on a really local level,” said Cal Wettstien of the White River National Forest. “We need to look at private land, (Bureau of Land Management) land, and the pinion/juniper country.

“There’s a lot of other supply besides the national forests.”

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or at smiller@vaildaily.com.

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