The Green Energy Project anxiously awaits word from B.C. Hydro whether or not the Crown corporation will buy its electricity at the end of the month.
According to Fred Scott, vice-president of business development at Western BioEnergy Inc., B.C. Hydro will announce July 29 which private power companies it will award contracts to following a request for proposals from green energy firms.
"If we're successful, we'll be breaking ground on the plant in the spring of 2012 and the plant should be online by 2014."
Last January, B.C. Hydro shortlisted three projects that Western BioEnergy designed, among them the Merritt Green Energy Project.
The Merritt Green Energy Project would entail building a 33-megawatt biomass plant in the Tolko lumber yard. The plant would burn sawmill byproducts like sawdust from Tolko and fuel and debris piles near tree harvest sites to turn steam turbines and create electricity.
Originally, about half of the electricity created would have been available to the Nicola Valley. That amount of power would be enough to supply 29,000 homes.
However, Scott says the distribution of electricity would likely be even more favourable to the area.
"Now it looks like the lion's share of power will go to Merritt."
The estimated capital investment to build the plant is about $140 million, Scott says. If the plant is built, it would create 80 to 100 full-time construction jobs as well as 16 full-time jobs to actually operate the plant, he says.
Scott adds that the jobs would be generally high paying and technical in nature, such as steam engineers to operate the plant.
He also notes that the project would support the local forestry industry by buying waste from sawmills and harvest sites and create indirect employment from the collection of fuel piles.
"This way we can actually pay for their byproducts."
The Merritt Green Energy Project hosted an open house at the Merritt Civic Centre June 23. If a contract were awarded, the next public consultation session would likely be held in late September, Scott says.
Addressing local concerns about air quality and the project's effect on it that arose at the open house and in letters to the News, Scott says of the plant, "It burns wood waste and only wood waste. It removes all but 20 milligrams per cubic metre of particulate emissions. We're one per cent of what a beehive burner would give out."
Asked if the plant could burn any fuels beside wood debris, such as medical waste or garbage, he replies, "Absolutely not. We are regulated by law and also B.C. Hydro."
Scott adds that the power plant's boiler is not hot enough to act as an incinerator.
Scott says the plant's existence will actually improve air quality in the area because wood debris would be burned inside a regulated, sealed boiler rather than in open air outdoors.
The other two Western BioEnergy projects are located near Burns Lake and Fort St. James, while the five remaining shortlisted proposals to B.C. Hydro are based on plants in locations as diverse as Campbell River, Prince George, and Grand Forks.