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SierraPine proposes power plant

Natural-gas-driven generators would supply half its fiberboard production

SierraPine Limited has submitted a construction application to the Department of Environmental Quality to build two natural-gas-powered electrical generators at its west Medford plant.

DEQ has proposed approving the project following a public comment period ending June 11, said agency environmental engineer Tom Peterson.

SierraPine submitted the construction project application in April for the cogeneration plant, which at six megawatts of power would supply about half the fiberboard manufacturer's electrical usage.

If approved, the project will be situated at the south end of SierraPine's Medite Division at 2685 N. Pacific Highway. A separate DEQ approval will be required for the turbines to operate. The project's cost was unavailable Monday.

An associated application for modification of SierraPine's Title V permit - the document outlining emission monitoring requirements - was also submitted to DEQ in April.

Once completed and operational, the turbines would produce both carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide emissions, according to DEQ reports.

In addition to the energy generated by the natural gas-powered turbines, SierraPine's operation would use the exhaust from the burning process to dry wood fiber, Peterson said. Although the electrical generation project would reduce the plant's need for outside electricity, it would increase the amount of natural gas it must purchase for operation.

And while most new electrical generation plants now under construction are designed to be powered by natural gas, supply and demand issues leave industrial users like SierraPine facing hefty natural gas bills.

"I think (the project) came about because of the energy (crisis)," Peterson said. "(SierraPine) hadn't had this in their earlier proposals. Of the alternatives they looked at, this one looked best for the long term."

The company considered various projects to decrease their reliance on utility-generated power, including burning sander dust to generate electricity.

"They'll be doing some things to try to lower their emissions," Peterson said. "Emissions monitoring requirements will actually increase."

SierraPine has been found to be in noncompliance with DEQ twice since January 1999 for instrumental monitoring malfunctions, according to DEQ reports. But those instances were relatively minor and included events out of the company's control, such as a lightning strike that disabled monitoring equipment for about five days.

Public comment on SierraPine's project will be accepted by DEQ until 5 p.m. June 11. No public hearing is planned.

SierraPine's proposed project application is available for public review at DEQ's Medford office, 201 W. Main St., or at the Jackson County Library, 413 W. Main St.

Public comment can be mailed to: DEQ Medford Office, Air Quality Program, 201 W. Main St., Suite 2D, Medford, OR 97501.

Reach reporter Shari Downhill at 776-4463, or e-mail