March 17, 2011 in Business

City foresees energy district

But waste plant status must be renewable
By The Spokesman-Review
 
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The potential for an energy-based development district around the Waste-to-Energy Plant could be compromised if the facility is not reclassified as an alternative-energy provider, Spokane officials said Wednesday.

Mayor Mary Verner said the district would be attractive to light industry that could use electricity generated by the plant, as well as the steam and flue gases that are byproducts of burning the area’s waste.

She said new industrial plants on the West Plains, parts of which the city will annex Jan. 1, 2012, would pose no risk to the aquifer that supplies city drinking water. The nearby Spokane International Airport and associated trade zone would be attractive to import and export businesses, she added.

But the city-owned Waste-to-Energy Plant would be the centerpiece, she said.

“We thought of it as a sleeping giant,” said Verner during a briefing of the airport’s board of directors.

City Business Development Director Teresa Brum said much of the infrastructure to support development is already in place.

An energy district would dovetail with Greater Spokane Incorporated’s clustered business strategy, she said, and federal money set aside to assist renewable businesses might be available.

She said the energy district is one of five Targeted Area Development zones where city officials want to concentrate economic renewal.

City Director of Public Works and Utilities Dave Mandyke said the Waste-to-Energy Plant consumes 280,000 tons of garbage annually, and generates 140,000 megawatts of electricity – enough for 13,000 homes – for which the city gets $12 million.

Next year, he noted, plant operator Waste Management will complete construction of an adjacent $20 million waste-recycling facility that will process metal, glass and other materials produced locally, or trucked in from Wenatchee and Yakima, he said.

But maximizing the district’s attractiveness to new tenants depends on restoring the Waste-to-Energy Plant’s status as a renewable energy resource, which was lost when Washington voters approved Initiative 937 in 2006, said Sheila Collins, Spokane’s government relations director.

She said legislators have refused to amend the initiative to again make municipal waste a renewable energy resource. Without that change, she said, the plant’s energy would be much less valuable to utilities required to buy green energy.

And companies that want to be associated with renewable energy resources would be less likely to build a facility in the proposed district, she said.

“The value of the whole waste system is greatly diminished,” Collins said, adding that there is little expectation the law will be changed this year.

“It’s a great example of regulation killing a revenue source,” airport board Chairman Dave Clack said.


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