Kremmling the ideal location for wood pellet production |

Kremmling the ideal location for wood pellet production

Eric Murray " Guest opinion

Mark Mathis, President of Confluence Energy, knows how to make lemonade out of lemons.

He and six other investors are setting up a lemonade stand off of Highway 9 in Kremmling.

In this case the lemons are the pine beetle kill trees and the ever-increasing cost and depleting reserve of fossil fuels. The lemonade is an alternative biomass energy source already adopted by many European and Scandinavian counties and rapidly growing in popularity in the United States ” wood pellets.

Mathis, along with his wife, also owns Ghostwood Interiors, a Kremmling-based furniture store that utilizes regionally reclaimed lumber to manufacture mountain-style furniture. Not surprisingly his store is also an outlet for pellet burning stoves.

Mathis believes Kremmling is the ideal location for the $8 million pellet production plant set to be operational February or March 2008.

“Kremmling is a unique microcosm with several favorable factors,” Mathis said.

Those factors include Kremmling’s central location to Routt, Jackson, Summit, Eagle, Lake, Clear Creek and Grand counties, many of which have already expressed interest in learning more about the energy source. The town of Kremmling passed the special use permit for the plant after a public hearing.

Mathis says that the counties are all close enough to keep transportation costs down significantly, saving on overall cost of production and making it more affordable to end users.

In addition to close proximity, each of these counties has tons of available beetle kill to utilize as raw materials.

The Kremmling area has been called the epicenter of the pine beetle epidemic. The need to do something with the seemingly unsalvageable dead trees besides dumping in landfills or open burning is a widely expressed concern of citizens and government officials alike.

Confluence Energy is currently hauling in approximately three to four semi-loads per day, (purchased at fair market value), and reducing the risk of wildfire. By the time production is in full-swing the plant will be able to produce enough wood pellets to meet the heating needs of 30,000 to 40,000 homes.

“Our model of delivering in bulk to regional consumers will allow us to deliver wood pellets 20 percent below the cost of natural gas and 65 percent cheaper than propane or electric heat,” Mathis said.

Confluence Energy will also be packaging pellets in 40 pound bags.

Mathis explained that there is also a need for more cost-efficient fuels.

“Our commitment is to make it so financially logical to ski resorts, towns, hospitals, businesses and homes that the decision to go with pellet is obvious,” he said.

Pellet stoves for residential use can cost between $1,200 and $4,000. A complete central heating system can be purchased for $3,000 to $5,000.

Depending upon average monthly heating expenses break-even on this cost can occur within a couple of years. In addition, heating a typical home with pellets is said to be environmentally equivalent to taking six to eight cars off of the road.

Mathis said that the environmentally positive sentiment of the majority of regional citizens will likely increase demand. He points out that global warming, including interest in alternative sources of energy, ranks within the top three issues concerning Americans today.

“People are looking for better and less expensive energy sources with less environmental impact.” he said.

Mathis also mentioned that people want it done in the right way and for the right reasons.

“I want to go to sleep at night knowing I’m investing in the right places and doing the right thing,” he said.

Mathis says environmental impact from the production of the pellets will be minimal.

“I jokingly told an EPA official that I should paint the word, ‘S-T-E-A-M’, somewhere because that’s mostly what will be coming out,” Mathis said.

The official reportedly responded by saying that it was, “a good idea,” because it would remind people that what they see is mostly steam.

The production of wood pellets is said to be clean-burning and “carbon neutral.” In addition the production process does not include any additive for binding.

The precise chipping and heating process activates the tree’s own lignins acting as a natural bonding agent. To further reduce economic impact saw dust resulting from the chipping process will be utilized to fuel the dryers during production.

The EIEO “Energy In/Energy Out” equation is a method of analyzing the amount of energy used to produce a fuel vs. its output energy value. Mathis explained that for ethanol it takes seven units of energy to get eight units of energy out. With wood pellets it takes one unit in to get eight units out. “That includes trucking and energy to produce the pellets,” Mathis explained.

Confluence Energy has also taken significant measures to minimize impact as an industrial user. Landscape berms or earth mounds are being created with regional vegetation.

Buildings will be colored sage green and sandstone brown to better match the surrounding environment and everything is being designed at a low profile to minimize visual impact.

Burning the pellets for heat has a low environmental impact. The emissions from burning pellets only equal the amount of carbon dioxide released into the environment that a tree would release during its natural decomposition.

“Many people don’t realize that in Denver pellet stoves can be used on ‘no burn’ days because of their low emissions,” Mathis said.

In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, pellet stoves are “some of the cleanest-burning heating appliances available,” and “because they pollute so little” meet EPA standards.

Utilization of pellets for heating can also help companies attain Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. This system, according to the program Web site, is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings.

The local economy is expected to get a boost with the addition of what is being touted as the largest pellet plant west of the Mississippi. The plant is said to create between 40 and 50 new jobs.

These jobs will pay higher than the regional average wage. Confluence Energy studied the local market wages and organized their pay structure to be higher than average. “We want to offer a wage that is higher than the prevailing wage because it’s the right thing to do,” Mathis said.

Mathis said that he receives at least five calls every day asking for logging jobs, hauling jobs, administrative and sales jobs. Postings for positions will be advertised in the classifieds of the local paper as they become available.

According to a Confluence Energy press release, “We are proud to be part of the solution that will benefit the local economy, remove unwanted materials from the forest, create an alternative fuel source, generate inventory in an industry plagued by shortages, reduce the risk of forest fire and potentially even save lives.”

One might also add that in a world exploring viable energy alternatives in the nick of time, Confluence Energy in Kremmling is taking a bold and intelligent step.

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