Fresno biomass plant in danger of closing

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Biomass facilities which turn wood chips into energy have gradually been disappearing from the Valley.

The Rio Bravo biomass plant opened in 1988 and has produced close to four million kilowatts of energy. But the company's 30-year power purchase contract with PG&E will expire soon and it's not expected to be renewed.

Load by load the facility has added fuel to the fire. Large mounds of wood chips represent renewable energy. The chips have been continuously fed into a system which produces 25 megawatts an hour for the power grid. But plant manager Rick Spurlock said this facility could close in August of 2016.

Spurlock explained, "We're having difficulty re-contracting with PG&E because of the energy prices being paid to other renewables such as solar and wind. That's primarily due to the cost of our fuel. Whereas solar and wind facilities get their fuel for free, biomass plants actually have to pay for their fuel."

The facility budgets $6 million dollars a year for fuel. Should production grind to a halt, 26 employees would be out of work. But so would dozens of workers at other companies which grind up orchards and transport material to the facility.

Spurlock said, "The rest of the country and the world now is catching up with biomass and unfortunately California's industry is dying."

Growers who have been pulling out orchards because of the drought won't be able to send the trees to the processor.

Spurlock said, "So if we were to go away our farmers would be forced to open burn their material which would produce our air in the Valley. The cities would be forced to landfill their urban waste."

AB 590 introduced by Assembly member Brian Dahle (R-Redding) would have the state share fuel costs with biomass plants.

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