Nippon biomass plant remains down due to cracks in boiler unit
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Peninsula Daily News file photo
Steam billows from the Nippon Paper Industries USA mill in Port Angeles. The mill’s new cogeneration plant stands in the foreground.

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Nippon Paper Industries USA's new $85 million biomass cogeneration plant will continue to be offline for weeks and possibly months due to multiple cracks in the boiler's giant water-containment vessel, mill manager Steve Johnson said Monday.

“We are looking at trying to make a decision on what is the proper repair plan, which could include [options] up to replacement,” he said.

“It's safe to say it will be [offline for] an extended period of time.

“We want to make sure the repair is correct and safe.”

The cracks at Nippon's plant have compromised the new boiler's mud drum, a forged steel component that holds water and is about 45 feet long and 36 inches in diameter.

It is one of two boiler drums connected by 1,500 pieces of piping, Johnson said.

Johnson did not know the source of the cracks, but he said the leading theory is caustic water combined with high temperatures.

He also did not yet know if faulty materials or workmanship resulted in the cracks.

“With the fact that we have leaks, we have to consider that,” he said.

Johnson did not know how much repairs will cost but predicted the amount will be significant.

Problems with the biomass unit first shut down the cogeneration plant in February. The problems have not affected overall production.

Johnson said he did not know if Nippon or Covington, La.-based Factory Sales & Engineering, the primary contractor of the boiler, would pay to address the problem.

“I'm not terribly concerned with that at this point,” he said.

“I just want to get it repaired properly and get it online.”

The cogeneration plant, which had a price tag that grew from $71 million to $85 million, was dedicated in November with fanfare during ceremonies at the west Port Angeles factory and the Red Lion Hotel.

Speeches by company officials from Nippon's Japanese headquarters included assertions that the new biomass plant, which will generate electricity, is key to the Ediz Hook plant's survival at a time of diminishing demand for the telephone book paper produced there.

Nippon also manufactures newsprint for newspapers including Peninsula Daily News.

Nippon was closed last week so the company could manage its inventory and resumed operation Monday, he said.

“There are concerns with the directory market,” Johnson said.

“We're being careful to match inventory with orders.”

The factory was shut down for two weeks earlier this year for a “maintenance outage” for reasons tied to work on the cogeneration facility, Johnson said.

The plant has never operated at full capacity.

“We've kind of struggled with operational issues, but I thought we were getting ahead of that, and [this] reared its ugly head,” Johnson said.

Like the present boiler, Nippon's new boiler is intended to create steam for the plant.

Both boilers burn biomass, or woody debris including bark and slash.

But the new facility also will generate 20 megawatts of electricity for sale as green energy.

Port Townsend Paper Corp. earlier this year abandoned a much-disputed $54 million project to upgrade its own cogeneration plant.

Port Townsend Paper's plant 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 Hagen told Peninsula Daily News April 4.

Johnson said Nippon's customers have not abandoned their commitments to purchase the electricity.

“They could have walked on us, but they didn't,” he said.

“It shows the value of effective and honest communication on a timely basis.”

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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: May 06. 2014 7:30AM
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