Nippon temporarily shut down because of biomass fuel problems at power plant

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Fuel-system problems with Nippon Paper Industries USA’s newly expanded biomass cogeneration plant have caused a two-week shutdown of the mill, according to a union official.

Darrel Reetz, vice president of the Association of Western Pulp & Paper Workers Local 155, said Thursday he is confident the plant will be up and running again by about March 9.

“We are having some issues that need to be fixed on the fuel system,” Reetz said.

“That’s why we are not producing electricity, because we are trying to get the fuel system stabilized.”

Hog fuel is the woody detritus used in biomass-fired plants.

The material, conveyed by bins, was not adequately feeding the new boiler, Reetz said.

Stainless steel screws have to be removed and new ones set.

“It’s a major reconfigure,” Reetz said.

The boiler’s ash processing system also was plugged up, he added.

The $85 million cogeneration plant expansion, dedicated in November, was built to produce 20 megawatts to create steam for the mill and electricity for sale by burning biomass, or woody debris.

Since then, it has produced no more than 10 megawatts, Reetz said.

“It’s been up and down,” he said. “It was running pretty good at around 10 megawatts. Of course, you want to go higher.

“They should solve the problems,” he said. “They are trying their best.”

Resident mill manager Harold Norlund would not comment Thursday about the temporary closure.

Phil Lusk, deputy director of power and telecommunications systems for the city of Port Angeles, said Thursday he generally knows what the problems are and believes they are fixable.

He deferred further questions about repair issues facing the cogeneration plant to company officials.

“When it starts up, every power plant has its own sets of issues,” Lusk said.

“It sounds like it didn’t work according to plan, so you change the plan.”

A skeleton crew is working Nippon’s night shift, while about 30 maintenance and electrical employees are working the day shift, Reetz said.

Some day workers also are performing maintenance on the dryer section of the mill’s No. 3 paper machine, Reetz said.

Nippon’s human resources department has been working to designate different maintenance jobs to out-of-work employees, he said.

Other employees among the mill’s 119-person workforce are seeking temporary employment through WorkSource, the state’s official site for online employment services.

Shutdown preparations began Feb. 18, when employees were notified in a human resources department memo that annual maintenance scheduled for April was being moved to February “to solve these problems,” Reetz said.

Shutdown preparations were completed by Sunday.

The mill on Ediz Hook west of Port Angeles was the first of two mills on the North Olympic Peninsula to expand electric generation capabilities through biomass burning.

The Port Townsend Paper Corp. has delayed its $55 million cogeneration plant until this year or 2015. It is expected to generate 24 megawatts.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: February 27. 2014 6:57PM
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