Monday, December 13, 2010

TESC's Biomass Project: "This facility is expected to begin construction in 2011...."

Above: TESC vice-president for finance, John Hurley, explains the biomass gasification process at a community meeting held on campus in July.

TESC's Biomass Project:
“….This facility is expected to begin construction in 2011.…”

By Janine Gates

Senior staff of The Evergreen State College (TESC) gave members of the Washington State House Capital Budget Committee an update on its proposed biomass gasification project on Thursday, December 9.

After reviewing recent TESC energy conservation and efficiency successes, TESC vice-president for finance, John Hurley, briefly explained its biomass feasibility study process - which is still ongoing - then confidently told committee members, “We will begin our permitting process and this facility is expected to begin construction in 2011 - the summer of 2011....”

TESC director of facilities Paul Smith joined Hurley in the presentation, but did not speak.

Committee members held the work session to hear updates from recipients on grants received under the Jobs Act’s K-12 energy efficiency program.

Evergreen received a $3.7 million grant in early October from the Washington State Department of Commerce towards the construction of a new biomass gasification plant. It was the highest amount of any project awarded by the Governor’s $31 million grant under Commerce’s “Jobs Act” to create jobs and for energy cost savings.

TESC estimates that their proposed biomass gasification facility will cost about $13.9 million to build.

McKinstry Deems TESC Biomass Facility "Feasible"

According to McKinstry, an energy services company, The Evergreen State College’s biomass gasification project is feasible. McKinstry staff revealed their draft findings to TESC’s Sustainability Council in a meeting on campus on Monday, December 6.

TESC contracted with McKinstry in April of this year to study the feasibility of the project in terms of finances, adequate fuel source availability and conceptual design. McKinstry also assured TESC that project savings can be guaranteed.

According to McKinstry, TESC could save $583,000 net per year in fuel savings by converting from natural gas to biomass.

McKinstry contracted with a Vancouver company, LD Jellison, which determined that Evergreen can be consistently supplied with fuel. This supply is potentially available from Washington State Department of Natural Resource (DNR) lands, Ft. Lewis, and members of the Northwest Natural Resource Group (NNRG).

According to its website, NNRG’s priority is to support the growth of a profitable, sustainable, and environmentally sound timber industry in Washington State, primarily through its northwest certified forestry program for small landowners.

Scott Morgan, TESC’s sustainability coordinator, Morgan says, “We haven’t talked to anyone yet about supplying us (TESC’s biomass gasification facility), we’re just assessing what’s out there.

"For working forests, biomass is a waste stream. Some leave more than others on the ground and some is inaccessible. LD Jellison determined what is available for use,” said Morgan in an interview last week.

TESC’s efforts to study the issue of biomass gasification to heat its buildings and produce hot water is part of its stated goal to be carbon neutral by 2020. The use of biomass and whether it is carbon neutral, is being hotly debated on a national and international scale.

McKinstry also suggested that Evergreen, in a future phase of the biomass gasification project, could produce its own electricity.

“There is a potential for heat and power applications here, but it would cost another several million dollars," says Morgan.

"The University of British Columbia in Vancouver is just kicking out a pilot project doing this. It’s not something we can pursue right now, but if the technology is there, we’ll pursue it and use the same amount of energy more efficiently.

“There was federal money available for combined heat and power projects but we’re not ready and I don’t think we could have qualified. The money was mostly for utilities and municipalities. The Commerce grant was specifically aimed at schools, because they had been shut out up to now.”

TESC Sustainability Council Crams To Show Their Homework

TESC appears to be scrambling to show their homework on several fronts to beat several financial deadlines that are already in play.

At TESC’s Sustainability Council meeting on Monday, December 6, Morgan outlined a long laundry list of fundamental process and study issues that still need to begin, and resolved, in a very short timeline and with a small budget of $115,000.

This list includes a comparative survey of renewable energy options, a project specific analysis of carbon neutrality question, a project specific emissions analysis, an analysis of likely regional impacts on forest health, an analysis of the community impacts of the biomass facility proposal, a plan for long-term monitoring, a blueprint for a learning lab to support academic engagement, and the creation of an ongoing science review and advisory panel.

A draft TESC report on the project’s next steps says, “Despite many conversations around the values and details of these concerns and extensive, but uncoordinated, literature research by various members of the Sustainability Council there has been no formal agreement on who should be completing these study elements.”

Because of state restrictions on hiring consultant services, TESC is looking in-house to accomplish some of these tasks. The report goes on to say that the council is limited by “our lack of personal expertise in the particular issues in question, our lack of time to dedicate to developing that expertise, and limited time to physically perform the research necessary to inform our final decision.”

It had been suggested in a community meeting last month that TESC hire University of Oregon forest science professor Mark Harmon to do an analysis of TESC’s carbon balance question. Harmon has since responded that he may not have the time to do this, but could help find someone who can assist the college.

To answer another key environmental concern, Morgan suggested sending out an emissions analysis of several tons of local slash to determine what is in our local wood source to determine what is in it. TESC would have to create a specific list of what should be analyzed, such as dioxins, furans, heavy metals, radionuclides and nanoparticles. This could be a very expensive test.

Morgan suggested inviting Kirk Hanson of the Northwest Natural Resource Group as well as TESC faculty to do a study of regional forest health impacts on source forests, and determine the impact of TESC’s participation in the biomass supply equation.

Sustainability council member, faculty member Rob Knapp, commented that it is getting near the holidays and accomplishing these tasks could be difficult.

The Sustainability Council was not briefed during last Monday’s meeting that college vice-president Hurley would be providing his ambitious sounding report, three days later, on the project to the House Capital Budget committee.

The Sustainability Council has been meeting once a month for the last year, according to Morgan. “Council meetings were reduced to one time per month last year while we were going through our re-budgeting.”

As for meeting minutes about the biomass feasibility study discussions, they are almost non-existent. “I kept them for a while, but it got to where I couldn’t run the meeting and keep minutes, and there was no other staff,” says Morgan. Due to budget cuts, Morgan’s position is three-quarters time.

The next Sustainability Council meeting is January 10, the same day as the legislative session is scheduled to begin.

TESC Follows the Money

Evergreen’s tight timeline to accomplish a lot of work appears to be money-driven. In February, the council anticipates a need to submit a contract with McKinstry and/or the Washington State Department of Commerce to remain eligible for the $3.7 million jobs and energy cost savings grant TESC received from Commerce in October.

March is the anticipated deadline for the council to make a decision and recommendation on biomass to TESC vice-presidents. In April, the legislative session is scheduled to end and TESC will find out if it receives any portion of the $10 million it requested in state appropriations to build the gasification plant.

In May, college president Les Purce and staff will present the college’s draft 2011-13 capital spending plan, which may or may not include funding to build the biomass gasification facility, to TESC Board of Trustees. In June, Purce will present his recommended budget to the Trustees, who will make their final decision.

The next Board of Trustees meeting is January 19, 2011. The public is invited to make comments to the Trustees during the public comment period.

Speakers Address Thurston County Commissioners About Biomass

As the community becomes more aware of TESC’s proposed biomass facility, several speakers addressed the Thurston County Commissioners during its regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, December 7.

Janet Jordan, who hosted a show on Thurston County Television in September about biomass issues, spoke about TESC’s proposed biomass facility. In part, she was concerned about Evergreen contributing to the overall dependence on local wood supplies.

“TESC has said that its biomass gasification plant will use only 12,000 tons of fuel a year and will draw its supplies from forests within a radius of 30 - 50 miles around the college….it will be competing with the Adage plant currently planned for Shelton. The price of fuel and the effect on the forests will come from the total demand of all the biomass plants in the area,” Jordan said.

“We used to burn wood to heat our houses back in the 18th century. We got away from that because there were not enough forests in the world to fill the demand, and because we understood how many other irreplaceable services forests served. These lessons are still valid. Let’s not let our thinking go backwards to a time when we didn’t understand them.”

Barb Scavezze, coordinator of the Cool Thurston Campaign, thanked the commissioners for their role in reducing Thurston County’s carbon footprint. She urged the commissioners to not allow biomass incinerators in Thurston County.

“Wood waste energy releases carbon into the atmosphere - more than fossil fuels - and contributes to climate disruption. We need to transition away from burning carbon fuels for energy to renewable energy forms….”

Allen Gutman, a retired local physician who lives near The Evergreen State College, also registered his opposition to Evergreen’s proposed biomass facility. “Use your best judgment and your care for our environment. I don’t know why they’re considering biomass…It claims it’s carbon neutral but it’s not - it’s not renewable. It’s not safe, there’s toxic emissions that aren’t regulated…it produces dioxins…we do have other solutions.”

“We’re Tree Huggers, not Tree Burners!”

Above: Connie Simpson outside the Thurston County courthouse in Olympia on December 7 after her testimony to commissioners about TESC's proposed biomass gasification project.

Connie Simpson, a retired registered nurse who lives in Mason County and a TESC alumna, told the commissioners that she developed asthma in the 1990’s after she moved to Shelton. She said she believes her asthma and other health issues is caused by living near the Simpson Lumber and Olympic Plywood industrial sites. Connie Simpson is not related to the Simpson Lumber family.

Simpson told the commissioners that three of her grandchildren who live in Shelton have upper respiratory problems. She questioned whether or not the Environmental Protection Agency, Washington State emissions regulations or the Olympic Regional Clean Air Agency has protected her from the consequences of inhaled pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, and particulate matter from diesel trucks carrying timber, and emissions from the downtown factories.

“…so, I was astounded when I learned that my alma mater, TESC, was proposing a biomass plant. We’re tree huggers, not tree burners!” said Simpson.

Simpson questioned the college’s proposed need for two truckloads a days of biomass, for the facility. “Diesel trucks will log and load the trees, trucks will haul the fuel to the college with their attendant diesel emissions affecting every living thing they pass…TESC is merely spreading out their footprint, not eliminating it.”

Later, Simpson said she will no longer contribute to the Evergreen Foundation if TESC builds a biomass gasification plant. She also said she has started a group called Grandmothers Against Pollution.

For more information about TESC's biomass gasification study project, read “Biomass Issue Becomes a Public Relations ’Biomess’ for The Evergreen State College,” November 24, 2010, at

To view the House Capital Budget Committee work session and TESC’s report to members on December 9, 2010, go to:

To contact TESC College President Les Purce or the Board of Trustees, write them at The Evergreen State College, Olympia, Washington 98507, or call (360) 867-6100. For more information on Board of Trustee meetings, go to:

The TESC Sustainability Council’s website is being updated: or go to