From: Jeff Tucker, The Pueblo Chieftain, Colo.
Published January 25, 2005 12:00 AM

Aquila to Burn Biomass in Canon City

Jan. 25--Aquila's W.N. Clark Generating Station is undergoing a process that could help maintain the health of the state's national forests and reduce the toxic emissions from the coal-fired power plant.

The station, located in Canon City, is replacing part of its coal infrastructure with biomass materials culled from area forest thinning operations.

Forest thinning operations eliminate small-diameter trees, leaving larger, old growth trees in place. The theory is that by reducing the number of smaller, younger trees blamed for sending fire upward to the tips of trees, there is a reduction in the chances of catastrophic crown fires.

But most of the timber harvested from such operations isn't thought to have many traditional uses, and by extension, not much profitability.

Biomass energy, where the material is burned to generate fuel for power plants, is one of a number of emerging uses for the material that gets left over from these projects.

The biomass is thought to burn cleaner than coal and, if its use becomes more popular, could become a profitable product for timber companies taking on these forest thinning projects.

By converting a portion of its plant from coal to biomass, Aquila is preparing itself to take some of this smaller material and use it to fire its generators.

"Aquila is creating a market for the waste materials," said Rick Grice, executive director of the Governor's Office of Energy Management and Conservation, which, along with the Department of Energy, is cooperating with Aquila in the process. "Using the biomass at the power plant is an environmentally friendly alternative and transforms a traditional waste stream to a fuel source. We hope that the success of this project will encourage more forest thinning work to be conducted and protect our forests from the damage and impact of wildfires."

The second part of the program involves Aquila issuing renewable energy certificates. The certificates are issued based on the number of environmental benefits generated by the program, not the amount of power generated. The certificates are then sold.

Aquila said the money from those sales will be used to cover the added costs associated with converting to biomass.

Biomass fuels are generally more expensive than coal due to transportation and processing the material.

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