A Pagosa Springs real estate man and land manager for out-of-area owners updated La Plata Electric Association board members Wednesday on plans to turn trees and forest debris into electricity and wood products.
J.R. Ford said a 2006 feasibility study, supported by a field demonstration in the nearby Turkey Springs area four years ago, shows the plan will work.
Ford and LPEA are scheduled to begin discussing a power-purchase agreement after the first of the year. Tri-State Generation and Transmission, the LPEA wholesale supplier, will be brought into the discussions.
Ford, doing business as Renewable Forest Energy, and partners Forest Health Company and Forest Health Timber Products, would thin forests to use ponderosa pines, needles, bark and Gambel oak to produce sawmill lumber, biochar and wood chips for a gassification process to produce 5 megawatts of electricity, enough for almost 4,700 homes.
The multi-faceted project would work 1,500 acres of U.S. Forest Service land and 300 to 400 acres of private holdings a year, Ford said. By the time the estimated 70,000 acres of exploitable forest has been covered, the area first cut would be ready for another round, he said.
The sawmill lumber and biochar – charcoal used as a soil amendment and for carbon sequestration – would be sold. The timber has potential markets in Mexico. Ford wants to sell the electricity to LPEA. At the current pace of negotiating contracts, the first power would be available in the third quarter of 2015.
Forest thinning would occur within a 50-mile radius of Pagosa Springs. Otherwise the project wouldn’t be economically feasible.
Thinning overgrown forests, Ford says, reduces the threat of wildfire, improves wildlife habitat, brings more sunlight and moisture to the forest floor and reduces stream pollution. The projects also create jobs.
Wood chips, under heavy pressure, are converted to gas to operate a generator. The plant, which would operate all day every day of the week, with about one month a year of downtime, would be built along Cloman Boulevard in Pagosa Springs near an LPEA booster station.
Ford plans to press ahead with LPEA staff members on a power-purchase contract.
It was suggested that he keep Tri-State Generation and Transmission abreast of his plans. Tri-State, the wholesale supplier of power to LPEA, allows cooperative members to get a maximum of 5 percent of power from renewable sources.
Ford said his operation would add 2.5 to 3 percent more green power to LPEA alternative-fuel sources. LPEA itself is trying to get the 5 percent cap increased to 10 percent.
One board member asked Ford if it would be prudent to await the result of upcoming state legislative action on renewable-energy mandates.
Ford said Tri-State must face alternative-energy issues sooner or later and that potential legislation is just talk.
“I’ve got a project,” Ford said.