A new biomass energy plant on the edge of Lakeview will create 70 fulltime jobs in a county with 14% unemployment. // Photo courtesy of Iberdrola Renewables
Portland-based Iberdrola Renewables has broken ground on a biomass energy plant in Lakeview that will bring much-needed jobs to an area with chronically high unemployment rates.
Construction of the plant, which has eco-friendly boilers, has started at a 55-acre site on the edge of Lakeview. The plant will cost between $75 million and $100 million and is set to start producing 25 megawatts of energy by fall 2012. It will create 70 full-time jobs for the town of 2,700 and the surrounding area. At peak construction time, there should be around 150 workers, according to Lakeview city manager Ray Simms. Lake County had a 14% unemployment rate in September.
The plant will have a 15-year property tax abatement, but will pay $350,000 the first two years to cover municipal services; in year three, that amount will increase 3% each year. In year 16 the plant will begin generating $1.4 million to $1.8 million in annual taxes.
“Seventy jobs in our town is huge,” Simms says. Twenty jobs will be in the plant and 50 will be workers who harvest biomass from dead and diseased trees as well as plant debris on the forest floor. One-third of the biomass for the plant will come in the form of scrap wood from a nearby sawmill.
“I’ve heard that a juniper takes 30 to 50 gallons of water a day,” Simms says about the thirsty species that will be harvested for biomass. “That would water five head of cattle.” Proponents of the project say plant operations will help manage the surrounding woodlands better, areas that have been affected by the pine bark beetle and juniper overgrowth.
Though the plant will still produce pollutants by the ton, the emissions will be less than those of previous plants thanks to more modern and efficient boilers. “It’s better than leaving it to burn in the forests,” says Mark Fisher of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.