Residents show up in force to oppose prison power plant

A small-scale biomass and solar power plant that city officials thought would be a slam-dunk drew more than 130 letters of opposition and dozens of residents to a public hearing Thursday, prompting the Carson City Planning Commission to call for a separate public workshop on the proposal.

All but two of the opposition letters were the same, but they were signed and sent in by different people, said Carson City senior planner Jennifer Pruitt, and they were symbols of community concern.

The chief worry of residents was the pollution a wood-burning power generator proposed for the Northern Nevada Corrections Center might cause, and the health problems that could follow.

While engineers told the commission that the proposed plant burns nearly as clean as a modern natural gas plant and produces a fraction of the pollutants a pedestrian walking down Carson Street would breathe in, the audience remained skeptical.

Even a small amount of pollutants could cause health problems for some, said resident Scott Leftwich, adding his son is asthmatic. The risk, Leftwich said, is not worth the prison saving on its power bill.

"We've got to breathe in pollutants so they can save money," he said.

Officials from the consulting firm APS Energy Services told the commission the proposed system isn't just a wood-burning stove. The chipped and dried wood burns so hot, said APS official Jay Johnson, that it produces little ash and smoke.

Together with a few solar panels, the prison's proposed system would replace its gas-powered generators to supply the bulk of power for the campus and heat the place in winter. Prison officials say there would likely even be a little left over electricity to sell to the power company.

Over its 20-to-30 year life span, it's estimated the plant would save the corrections center $1.5 million.

According to the proposal, the wood to fuel the plant would come from Carson City Renewable Resources, a company that chips wood up into small, thin pieces and dries it out in preparation for biomass power plants.

The plant would burn up to 22 tons of the chips a day. APS estimates it would take one to two truckloads a day from the wood-preparation facility near the municipal landfill to the prison.

The commission tabled the measure and assured concerned residents a public workshop would be held on it by the middle of May.

Contact reporter Cory McConnell at or 881-1217.


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