SPI Bad Partner

A Better Partnership  082210

In our analysis of SPI’s closure of the Loyalton cogen plant we concluded that SPI is not a good investment for our community.
If SPI can’t be trusted with our community’s future, what else can we do?

A wholly new power plant is very expensive; further, siting is difficult and expensive and a new plant can’t stand alone, it needs power using partners and the infrastructure to deliver that power.  

All those things are set up now at the SPI site; unfortunately, it is unlikely SPI would part with just the cogen plant and immediate site.  The entire mill site, and likely all SPI land in that area, might be part of a deal.  Why sell part of the loaf and not the rest?

It might not be a great deal.  There are rumors of asbestos on some of the buildings, and some old timers say there is an area at the edge of the site where for decades oil and other toxic chemicals were dumped.  SPI might not even be aware of some of the hazards of the site.  Further, there is every indication that the land would be over-valued.  SPI doesn’t seem to be hurting; what it lost in revenues from lumber it might have partly recouped in Cap and Trade or conservation deals.  There might be no reason SPI couldn’t just let the cogen plant run idle, or even shut down altogether, for good.  With the income from the cogen plant cut off to Loyalton, and with some pillar businesses already pale, SPI could wait for a buyer for the mill site, or wait a little longer and throw a quarter down to buy the rest of the town.  

It might be that SPI is a motivated seller.  In that case, one might still look at $25 million bucks.  We can buy a better boiler/generator for that money, but there are the issues of the site, permitting, and infrastructure.  
There is also the problem of a buyer; if SPI vanished tonight NV Energy would still be there.  NVE has recently been accused of reducing the maintenance and support crews of the California units the company owns.  A rumored/proposed/who-knows purchase of those units by a California company would probably not change much, as the Canadian based corporation which owns the California company is hardly likely to be more chummy than the Florida Company which is rumored to own NV Energy.  Whatever the facts in all this, our little cogen plant doesn’t amount to peanuts to the elephants involved.

In an ideal case, Plumas Sierra Rural Electric Coop.  Still a corporation, PSREC none-the-less is cooperatively owned.  Many people in Sierra County happily rely on PSREC, even though the cost can be a little higher.  The lines are maintained, the storm repair team is top notch, and the staff are local and mostly neighborly.  

A group effort by Sierra County, the Fire Safe and Watershed Council, the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District and PSREC might result in a locally owned cogen plant delivering relatively green power to coop owners, and saving our air quality, and removing dangerous fuels from the forest, all without DV Daddy tantrums and abrupt closings.  Sierra Business Council could handle the networking.

With a stable, and hopefully expanding, market for our biomass, our local economy might gain a little color and even try to sit up and take solid food.  

But, that option probably isn’t open to us.  We might have to write off the cogen plant and instead focus our energy and limited resources on making our carbon more marketable.

If we could transport our biomass anywhere for free, we’d have no trouble selling off our hazard fuel.  But, we remember, wood and brush is 1. Full of water, and/or 2. Full of air.  Transporting water that you don’t want and air you don’t need using diesel fuel at today’s prices isn’t a great idea.

However, there might be a way we can reduce that cost.  
The first is to mash the air and water out of our biomass.  Currently, chipping is the best way, but it is expensive and actually adds air.  We could encourage technology to munch and crush biomass.
Second, “Someone” might consider a biomass gasification or woody biomass diesel fuel project.  If we could use our own carbon to power the trucks that take our biomass to market, it would be a little like having that free transport, though certainly less than free.

Currently, most gasification units can replace only about 50 horsepower as opposed to the 350 that diesel would provide.  Distillation of woody fuels to liquid biofuel is not easily done.  However, both gasification and distillation work better at higher temperatures, which means a functioning cogen plant might use heat to speed up biofuel production.

Could, maybe, might.  The fact is, biomass infrastructure and technology is where petroleum technology was in the early 1900s.  We need to help develop the technology which could make our county solvent again.
Developing technology, that’s why biomass is our future, not our present.

More on Biomass HERE

More on cost figuring HERE

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