Flathead Electric to Purchase Renewable Energy from Stoltze Lumber

By Beacon Staff

Continuing its push to use local sources of renewable energy, the Flathead’s primary energy provider has agreed to purchase electricity produced from a biomass facility at a lumber company’s plant in Columbia Falls.

Flathead Electric Cooperative announced Wednesday that its board of trustees recently approved a power purchase agreement with F. H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Company, which is going to replace an old boiler and construct a new biomass-fueled electric generation facility this spring at its site on Halfmoon Road in Columbia Falls.

FEC agreed to purchase an annual average of up to 2.5 megawatts of power – roughly the equivalent needed to power 2,500 homes annually – for 20 years beginning in 2013. FEC will pay a wholesale rate of 9 cents per kilowatt and receive renewable energy credits in the transaction.

The agreement allows Stoltze to move forward with investing roughly $20 million in the project, according to the company’s General Manager Chuck Roady. The biomass facility will primarily use wood waste like bark and slash to generate electricity. Stoltze, celebrating its 100th year of operation this year, recently began developing another biomass facility that, when completed, will convert waste material and algae into energy.

Officials from both FEC and Stoltze touted the new agreement as beneficial both businesswise and from a community standpoint.

“Our board would prefer to do local (energy) generation as opposed to doing generation from out of state,” FEC Assistant General Manager Mark Johnson said. “This is a great project and I’m looking forward to watching this come to fruition.”

The development of a new biomass facility will help preserve the current workforce at Stoltze and will likely lead to the addition of three to six new jobs, Roady said.

“It’s a good thing for the community, it’s a good thing for Stoltze and our employees and it’s a good thing for Flathead Electric,” Roady said. “This is just a very positive project.”

Wellons Inc., an engineering firm out of Vancouver, Wash., will develop the new biomass facility. Roady estimates the project will break ground in April and energy will be on the grid by the fall of 2013.

The agreement was more than three years in the making. An early proposal for the biomass project looked at generating roughly 20 megawatts, Johnson said, but FEC balked after determining the rate impact from a project of that magnitude would be too large for members. FEC and Stoltze signed the current agreement on Jan. 31.

Flathead Electric’s model for power supply has evolved in recent years as the cooperative continues adding to its renewable energy portfolio. The Stoltze agreement is an example of FEC’s present mindset, Johnson said.

“If it can be local and be renewable, that’s our No. 1 goal,” Johnson said.

FEC, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, is the second largest utility and largest cooperative in the state. Flathead Electric currently receives almost all of the energy it distributes from Bonneville Power Administration in Portland, Ore. But because BPA has begun capping the amount of power it sells and charging clients higher rates for exceeding the cap, FEC has been looking to boost its independent energy generation.

FEC currently generates roughly 1.1 megawatts at a methane facility at the county landfill. The cooperative has agreed on a second project, at the Whitefish hydroelectric plant, that is expected to generate a quarter of a megawatt. The project remains in the works and is scheduled to begin in the near future, Johnson said.

Johnson said Flathead Electric Cooperative’s board of trustees continues to search for new avenues of energy development, but no new projects are currently being proposed following the Stoltze agreement.

The cooperative is celebrating its anniversary on March 17 at the Christian Center in Kalispell. For more information visit www.flatheadelectric.com.

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