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Nippon biomass cogeneration plant targets Nov. 1 start

Work could wrap up in the next several weeks on Nippon Paper Industries USA’s long-stalled biomass cogeneration plant.

The expectation is that it will be up and running full bore by Nov. 1.

“We hope to beat that,” Steve Johnson, mill manager, said last week. “We have several weeks of work left.”

Tests
on the new boiler mud drum that was installed in early September will
result in a steam plume expected to issue from the plant at Ediz Hook
later this week, Johnson said.

If the Nov. 1 finish date holds,
the cogeneration plant will be fully operational nearly a year after the
project was slated to begin producing steam for the mill and 20
megawatts of electricity for the mill and for sale to buyers of green
energy.

The Tokyo-based company had made agreements with buyers who wanted to purchase the cogeneration plant’s electricity.

Nippon has made good on the commitments by purchasing electricity on its own and reselling it to those buyers.

“We did what was right by our customers,” Johnson said.

“We made a commitment, and we honored it.”

The
project, expected to exceed $85 million, was dedicated during a
ceremony at the papermaking plant Nov. 1, 2013, with the expectation is
would be operational later

that month.

But cracks were
discovered in the plant boiler’s mud drum, a 30-foot, 25-ton pressurized
vessel that collects solids from the boiler drum, and the plant has
never operated at capacity.

The mud drum and 40,000 feet of
tubing have since been replaced in repairs that have boosted the cost of
the project, which had been estimated at $71 million in 2010 and rose
20 percent to $85 million by 2013.

Johnson would not disclose the current cost but said it will be “comfortably” under $90 million.

The
project upgrades the existing cogeneration plant, which has an
antiquated boiler that uses biomass — woody debris such as forest slash
and peeled bark — to produce only steam for the plant and is in use
until the new boiler works.

Nippon, which produces telephone book
paper and newsprint for the Peninsula Daily News and the weekly Sequim
Gazette and Forks Forum, continues to employ about 200 workers and
operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Johnson said.

“The support out of Tokyo and senior management has been outstanding,” he added.

“Certainly they’re disappointed in the delays, don’t get me wrong, but their support has been strong.”

Problems with the biomass plant first shut it down completely in February.

Nippon
and Covington, La.-based FSE Energy, the primary contractor for the
cogeneration plant project, expect to undergo mediation to determine who
will cover repair and replacement costs, Johnson said.

“We’re still waiting on the contractor to get back to us, and we can meet in mediation,” he said.

Earlier
this summer, a hole was cut in the side of the boiler and the cracked
mud drum rolled out on a steel jig before being placed on the ground.

The new mud drum “went in exactly the same way” the old component came out, Johnson said.

On Sept. 8, the boiler was filled with water, pressure was applied, and their were no leaks.

The boiler can produce 225,000 pounds of steam.

“There are still many weeks to go, but it was a big milestone, if you will,” Johnson said.

The boiler wall was replaced the weekend of Sept. 13, and the internal surface was chemically cleaned by Friday.

Port
Townsend Paper Corp. earlier this year abandoned a much-disputed $54
million project to upgrade its own cogeneration plant that would have
generated 24 megawatts.

Both projects survived numerous environmental challenges.

But
those challenges slowed down the Port Townsend project and, combined
with a strong market for cheap natural gas, were a factor in dooming it,
company President Roger Hagan told Peninsula Daily News earlier this
year.

The cracked mud drum and 1,600 steam tubes from Nippon’s
cogeneration project will remain in the mill’s parking lot for the time
being.

“We’re obviously saving those for arbitration,” Johnson said.


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