Powering the Peninsula, Part 2: Will Kitsap County get its own power-generating station? A look at one proposal.
BREMERTON — One of the country’s largest independent energy companies is partnering with a property owner west of Kitsap Lake to propose a power plant at a former rock quarry.
Consultants for Tenaska, based in Omaha, Nebraska, have begun the permitting process to develop a biodiesel-fueled turbine and generator at Ueland Tree Farm. The 215-megawatt power plant would be capable of powering 200,000 homes when activated. Its developers are targeting 2025.
The plant would only be used at peak times, likely during hot summer or cold winter days, to make the local power grid more reliable, said Patrick Leslie, a former Puget Sound Energy emerging technologies manager who is managing the project for Tenaska.
“This is the way to keep the lights on at low cost, and to be as green as possible,” Leslie said of the plant, which has been dubbed the Seabrooke Renewable Energy Facility.
The project is among the latest for Tenaska, a company that has developed more than 11,000 megawatts of natural gas and renewable power plant projects around the country, according to Forbes. Investors in the project, believed to cost between $225-$250 million, include Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners.
The proposal, if built, would create the first large-scale power generating station in Kitsap County — if you don’t count Naval Base Kitsap’s heat-generating steam plant, smaller-scale emergency generators, and the Navy’s fleet of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines that traverse local waters. It would also be the first such biodiesel powerplant in Washington, according to the state’s Department of Commerce.
Construction of the plant will require up to 150 jobs to complete. The plant will also employ about five permanent operators, Leslie said.
Why here, why now?
Puget Sound Energy’s power grid in Kitsap County faces a precarious future, and the utility has requested proposals for ways to increase electricity reliability on the peninsula. But the utility said it cannot yet discuss specific proposals. Though all of Kitsap County’s power is served by PSE, no contracts have been signed and the power plant, if built as planned, is open to contract with the utility it chooses.
The project must clear myriad regulatory hurdles before construction can begin, including approval for its emissions through the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.
Craig Ueland, who has owned his namesake tree farm since 2004, said a consultant representing Tenaska approached his family in October 2021.
“They particularly liked that the site is adjacent to the transmission lines, centrally located with good road access, and yet is in an out-of-the-way location,” Ueland said.
He said they had “many questions” about the idea of such a facility on their property, but came to believe it was important after “learning about the seriousness of our local and regional electricity challenges.”
“As our nation shifts from fossil fuels to renewable energy, we need to have sufficient backup capacity so we don’t have brownouts simply because the sun isn’t shining, the wind isn’t blowing, or the snowpack is low,” Ueland said. “We do not have that capacity now, nor does Kitsap County have enough resiliency in its power grid.”
Though a lengthy permitting process remains, Bremerton’s mayor and the county commissioner representing the area are supportive of the project. The plant, while located in unincorporated Kitsap County, is near the city’s SoundView Estates housing development; its truck traffic will also use Werner Road.
How ‘green’ is it? Assessing impacts to the environment
The facility will purchase its biodiesel from the Chevron-owned Renewable Energy Group’s Grays Harbor plant. Consisting of a mix mainly of soybean and canola oils, a byproduct of animal feed, the 14-acre total site will include storage for 1.87 million gallons. Given its limited operating schedule, its developers say it will use a minimum of 400,000 gallons a year, though it could run, at maximum, up to six million gallons in the event of an emergency.
Documents filed with the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency describe the turbine to be used with biodiesel as similar to a model made by General Electric. It will be connected to a 60-foot smoke stack, and its emissions will include carbon dioxide and fine particulate matter, though how much it emits would be capped by the agency.
The plant will require renewable diesel to be activated for the first time but will switch to biodiesel within a few days, Leslie said.
As a fuel-fired plant, the site will still produce some greenhouse gas emissions, at a time when state leaders in particular are moving aggressively to ban carbon-emitting power sources. Is a gas turbine, though fueled with biodiesel, really different?
“Whether that’s really green that’s debatable because you’re still producing CO2,” said Daniel Kirschen, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Washington.
But Leslie said by using biodiesel, the emissions from the plant are “offset” as soy and canola grow in the ground, soaking up carbon dioxide before they’re harvested.
“This will also be considered a net zero greenhouse gas facility because the organic matter used as fuel feedstock absorbed an equal amount of carbon while growing,” he added.
The plant meets stringent new state standards as a renewable fuel source, according to Glenn Blackmon, an economist and manager of the energy policy office at the state’s department of commerce.
The release of carbon dioxide from the new plant will amount to 0.01% of total statewide emissions in an average year, Leslie said.
“The Seabrooke Renewable Energy Facility will allow Washington State to reduce yearly CO2 emissions while improving grid reliability and providing a valuable source of reserve electricity supply,” Leslie said.
The developers pointed to other new proposals for similar power generation, including Oregon’s air permit approval in August of a much bigger $1.5 billion biofuel plant to be built by NEXT Renewable Fuels, planned for north of Clatskanie, Oregon.
A ‘backup for our power grid’
The plant’s operation, up to 470 hours per year, will also produce noise at the nearest property line equivalent to a residential air-conditioning unit, Leslie said.
The plant will require infrequent fuel truck deliveries, estimated at about 30 to 60 per year. By contrast, Ueland’s rock quarry traffic includes up to 120 trucks per day in the summer.
The developers have reached out to the Navy to see if the nearby railroad line that runs south to Mason County and north to Naval Base Kitsap Bangor could be used for hauling fuel as an alternative.
The mayor noted the state’s demands on power producers to cease coal production and increase renewable sources, combined with Kitsap County’s growth, make it necessary to bring a local power generating station.
“It’s basically a backup for our power grid,” the mayor said.
Of biodiesel, the mayor said: “if somebody has a better idea to generate power, we’ll examine that, but right now, this is the best option.”
“I’m happy it’s moving forward,” echoed Kitsap County Commissioner Ed Wolfe. “We need this for our power grid’s reliability.”
It’s the latest use for the tree farm, which includes public hiking trails like the one to Dickerson Creek Falls, logging operations, and a newly established rock quarry at the north of the property. Ueland owns a total of more than 2,000 acres of land here.
The mining quarry near the end of Werner Road — the site of the proposed power plant — is coming to a close, after 1.2 million yards of material was extracted over more than six decades. Remediation of the site, including filling in what is a cavernous pit in the ground, is ongoing. Ueland began operating new quarries nearer to Leber Lane earlier this year.
Werner Road’s traffic from Ueland Tree Farm, when combined with the nearby 339 homes being built at Harbor Custom Homes’ Soundview Estates, is about to get even busier. Bremerton leaders will begin planning on a $7.7 million project to widen the road and add signals in 2025.
Read more from the Kitsap Sun’s “Powering the Peninsula” series:
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