The move by Adage LLC, brought a sudden, decisive end to a 13-month battle over the $250 million project, which would have consumed about 600,000 tons of forest wood debris to generate enough electricity for 40,000 homes.
What was hailed as a green energy project in February 2010 quickly drew the wrath of a sizable number of Mason County residents who questioned the project’s potential effect on forest health and air quality.
Company officials said a weak market for renewable energy — not project opposition — scuttled the project. “It was 100 percent about the lack of a market for the energy,” Adage spokesman Tom DePonty said. “We were well on our way to securing permits and a fuel supply for the project.”
Project opponents, who staged protests, sponsored educational forums and lobbied local elected officials, said their campaign must have made a difference.
“This is a victory for the citizens of Mason County,” said Concerned Citizens of Mason County spokeswoman Beth McBain. “People looked at the science and did the research. They determined it was not a project we wanted in our community.”
If built, the plant would have generated annually about 550,000 tons of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and nearly 100 tons of particulate matter linked to heart and respiratory problems, especially in infants, pregnant women and the elderly, project opponents said.
However, Adage was well on its way to securing an air pollution permit from the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency, whose staff had determined that the pollution from the plant would not violate federal air quality standards.
The plant would have spurred about 400 construction jobs and 100 permanent jobs in a county with an unemployment rate hovering around 10 percent.
“I still think we’re a viable county for a biomass project,” said Tim Sheldon, a state senator and Mason County commissioner. “But no one in this world would go forward with a project of this size without power sales agreements.”
When the project was first announced early last year, Adage officials said they expected to sell their power in this region and beyond to utilities facing state requirements that they include green energy in their energy supply portfolios.
In Washington state, voters approved Initiative 937 in 2006, requiring utilities with more than 25,000 customers to ramp up their green energy to 3 percent by 2012, 9 percent by 2016 and 15 percent by 2020.
All the affected utilities in the state have met their have 2012 goal, noted Dave Warren, energy services director for the Washington Public Utility District Association.
And, he said, the lagging economy has dampened utility demands for new power.
Whether or not Adage could secure a sustainable supply of fuel within a 50-mile radius of its proposed Port of Shelton plant site had been the topic of much debate.
“The fuel supply was always a question,” Warren said.
In August 2010, Adage signed a fuel supply contract with Shelton-based Green Diamond Resource Co. that would satisfy about 20 percent of the project’s needs. No other fuel supply contracts had been announced before the project termination.
Several other woodwaste-to-energy projects have been unveiled in Western Washington.
In a March 4 letter sent to the Mason County commissioners, state Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark — a big fan of high-tech biomass projects — questioned the wisdom of the Adage project, which he labeled an inefficient use of forest residue.
“There is reason to question whether this volume can be environmentally and economically sustained within feasible hauling distance from the proposed Adage facility,” Goldmark said.
DePonty said the concerns voiced by Goldmark and more active project critics had no role in the decision to scrap the project after the company had invested millions of dollars trying to advance it.
Adage is a joint venture formed by AREVA, a global energy firm, and Duke Energy. So far, Adage has terminated or announced intent to terminate three woodwaste-to-energy projects it had started, including two in Florida.
The demise of the Mason County project was first made public by Port of Shelton executive director John Dobson in a press release Monday morning. DePonty confirmed the project termination and said Adage would not be making any public statement of its own.
The next order of business for the port will be to close out an option Adage has to lease 87 acres from the port. The lease option costs Adage $1,000 a month.
The clean air agency has yet to hear from Adage, ORCAA spokesman Dan Nelson said. The agency is likely to suspend the air operating permit requested by Adage after the agency completes review of public comments it received on the permit earlier this year.