Generating plant at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center starting to pay off |

Generating plant at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center starting to pay off

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal

The power and heat generating plant at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center has made significant gains in efficiency and is starting to provide the heat, hot water and electric power promised when the project was conceived.

Damon Haycock, business manager of the plant, told an audience including Sen. John Ensign on Tuesday the plant is now generating 75 percent of the prison’s heat and more than 100 percent of NNCC’s electricity. He said they are selling power back to the electric grid.

The wood-fired plant was built starting in September 2006 with $6.5 million in state money to replace electricity and natural gas used at the prison. But it wasn’t as efficient as advertised when completed, and prison officials had problems getting the necessary wood chips to burn in the high-tech boiler.

Haycock credited Tom Baker, who was a top aide to former Sen. Richard Bryan before retiring, with organizing state and federal forestry and local government agencies so that the power plant had enough wood to burn.

“We get good, green wood chips from the Eastern Sierra and Tahoe Basin,” said Haycock.

In the process, he said, removing underbrush and deadfalls in the Tahoe Basin is greatly improving forest health and reducing the risk of catastrophic fire.

Baker said the plant’s supply has grown from three weeks to a mountain of chips he said will supply the plant for five months.

Ensign told the group of about 30 touring the plant he was proud of what help he and Sen. Harry Reid were able to provide in getting the plant going and providing access to fuel.

“Forest health alone is enough to do something about fuel reduction,” Ensign said. “When you can do things that are actually good from an economic standpoint, too, it’s a win-win situation.”

Haycock said the plant burned 20,000 tons of wood last year.

“That’s almost as much as what burned in the Angora fire,” he said.

Another issue when the plant started was concerns by neighbors the plant was dumping pollution into the air around their homes. But Haycock said the additional ash filter the plant installed has eliminated almost all emissions.

The plant burns wood chips at 1,600 degrees, producing a lot of heat but very little pollution. Haycock said everything in the plant is automated and centralized now to the point where one person can manage it.

The plant still isn’t producing the revenue the state promised when it was approved but Haycock said improvements made over the past few months have greatly improved the operation.

“We have seen significant increases in efficiency,” he said.