Schneider Electric, Clark County's plan for biomass-fueled CHP plant in Vancouver, Washington, facing possible disruption as city planners say facility not allowed in downtown zone

LOS ANGELES , August 5, 2011 () – Plans for a public-private partnership between Clark County, Washington, and Schneider Electric for a biomass-fueled electricity plant are facing disruption as Vancouver city planners say the facility is not allowed in its downtown zone, The Columbian reported Aug. 4.

The proposed location for the plant, owned by the county, is zoned for light industrial purposes and biomass use is permitted in light industrial zones, according to attorneys for Schneider Electric. The attorneys argue that biomass, which creates steam heat from burning woody debris of forest byproducts, is a ‘waste-related’ use and requires no further city approval.

In a 10-page letter, city Planning Review Manager Chad Eiken said that biomass does not qualify as a waste-related use and an amendment to zoning laws prohibits nearly all waste-related uses.

The county and Schneider have 14 days to appeal and would pay US$1,165 to the city for Eiken’s decision to be looked over by an independent hearings examiner, though the county could consider appealing to the city council for a code amendment, Eiken added.

Clark county commissioners will have to decide whether to appeal, according to the county’s General Services Manager Mark McCaulley, but if the deal is nixed due from zoning issues or other forces, Schneider will still receive a minimum of $75,000 from the county.

The county and Schneider are hoping to settle the situation by Oct. 31 so the company can start building in time to receive $8 million or more from a federal energy grant that expires at year’s end. Scheduling an appeal in front of an appeals examiner or going to the city council for a code change takes 45 to 60 days, but the city would try to get to the matter as soon as possible Eiken said.

The county’s financial liability increases the longer it works with the company, with a minimum of $75,000 in the first weeks to a maximum of $395,000. Schneider has three deliverables that it must give the county to review along the way, and with each deliverable the fee increases.

Five county buildings would receive central heating, cooling and domestic water heating from the biomass boiler system. Excess power is expected to be up to 4 megawatts and would be sold by Schneider.

The primary source of this article is The Columbian, Vancouver, Washington, on August 4, 2011.

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