Instead of being dropped in landfills or spread on the forest floor, unusable wood hauled out of the forests west of Carson City for fuel reduction will be shoved into a boiler at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center and turned into power.
Carson City planning commissioners on Wednesday approved a permit for the project, which has faced opposition from residents living near the prison in South Carson City who fear the plant will pollute the air and prove hazardous to their health.
"It's a noble idea. I just don't think it belongs in the middle of town," said Scott Leftwich, a Realtor who lives near the prison.
Aside from concern about pollutants, which melted away when told the proposed plant will fall well below federal emission standards, the commissioners had nothing but support for the idea.
Representatives from the Nevada Division of Forestry told the commission the proposed hot-burning power plant is the best way to dispose of wood not fit for lumber harvested from nearby lands.
Other disposal methods include chipping the wood where it's removed and putting it right back on the ground. This method changes the dynamic of the wood, or "fuel," so it's not as much of a threat, said NDF official Jenny Scanland, but it doesn't remove it, and only so many woodchips can be sprayed back into the woods.
Another method is taking it to the dump, where it reduces the life of landfills and adds to gases released from decomposing material, she said.
The third method is scraping it into piles and burning it, which is immensely more toxic than combustion in a boiler.
All three methods are routinely used by NDF and other land-management agencies, Scanland said, because there's so much wood that needs to be removed from fire-ripe and beetle-infested forests.
Plant supporters also pushed the idea of energy independence.
Some 95 percent of Nevada's electricity is imported from other states, at a cost of more than $3 billion, said Pete Konesky, Gov. Kenny Guinn's acting energy adviser.
Over the 20- to 30-year life span of the small power plant, prison officials estimate they will save $3 million in today's dollars, even after the project's $6.2 million price tag is paid off.
The savings didn't sway the plant's opponents, about 25 of whom attended Wednesday's hearing.
"Isn't there a better way they can reduce their bills than to pollute our air?" asked Carson City resident Carol Howell.
Rich Minetto, an engineer for contractor APS Energy Services, countered that the plant will not only meet federal standards but may even reduce the pollution overall.
If not for the 1-megawatt wood-fired boiler and 30-kilowatt solar power project, Minetto said, the prison would have to buy that much power from Sierra Pacific Power Co., which gets the bulk of its power from dirtier, coal-fired power plants.
City planners placed 25 conditions on the permit, including a yearly report on the plant's overall operations and a report from state air quality officials on its emissions every two years.
n Contact reporter Cory McConnell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1217.