Seneca lumber's power grid contributions can power 13,000 homes
- Dec 9, 2019 1:52 pm GMT
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When a tree is felled and fed into Seneca Sawmill Company machines, lights in homes across Eugene turn on.
A small portion of the Eugene Water and Electric Board portfolio comes from burning wood bits at the sprawling lumber campus northeast of the city. Seneca and EWEB both look at the cogeneration power plant at the sawmill as another opportunity to use clean power as the world tries to phase out fossil fuels.
Seneca's primary focus is turning trees into timber, putting out 650 million feet of board every year. But the mill has made efficiency and sustainability go-to words for their corporate culture. CEO Todd Payne said their no-twig-wasted policy can power 13,000 Eugene homes.
"We are the only site I know of in the United States that can actually bring the entire tree onto one site and utilize it 100%," Payne said.
While that means Seneca processes most of each tree into lumber, Payne's 100% also includes most of the chips and sawdust shaved away in the process.
It's those woody remnants -- along with similar fuel bought and shipped in from elsewhere -- that supplements EWEB.
It's been almost a decade since the Seneca biomass power plant came online, designed to burn those wood chips and power a steam engine. The heat powers Seneca's dry kilns, which suck moisture from timber products, but its steam generates 20 megawatts that's then sold back to the power grid.
"Seneca's biomass generation output is considered by the state of Oregon and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as 100% renewable," said EWEB spokesperson Joe Harwood. "It helps EWEB make really good progress toward our renewable portfolio standard goals."
International Paper also maintains a biomass facility in Springfield, which sells renewable power back to the EWEB grid, Harwood said. That plant generates 51.2-megawatt through its steam turbine generator, according to state data. Payne said Seneca wood chips also are used in that facility.
Payne said there's still pushback against the timber industry despite efforts to log, process and generate power sustainably. Seneca claims its power plant is the cleanest currently operating in the western United States and is able to remove particulate emissions with 99.9% efficiency.
"We've always been sustainable. It's the nature of the product," Payne said. "We have augmented out practices over time to make sure we got there."
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