The biomass energy plant outside Chinese Camp has been awarded a five-year contract from Southern California Edison to burn wood from forest management operations and high fire hazard zones to produce 18 megawatts of electricity per hour, or 432 megawatts a day, private owners of the plant said this week.

Terms of the deal, which are considered secret, are concealed in documents that refer to a protective order, a nondisclosure certificate, and an interagency confidentiality agreement.

The power purchase agreement took effect March 1 after completion of a scheduled maintenance outage at the plant, which is called Pacific Ultra Power Chinese Station.

The maintenance outage lasted about three months, said Rick Spurlock, west region director of operations for IHI Power Services Corporation, a Tokyo-based owner of Pacific Ultrapower Chinese Station.

The plant boiler was refurbished, and IHI Power Services Corporation spent about $3 million total on maintenance. Now that Pacific Ultrapower Chinese Station has the contract, Spurlock said, the owners plan to invest in redeveloping Chinese Station, possibly to expand its role to include energy storage.

“Our current priority at Chinese Station is to help and support Tuolumne County and the Stanislaus National Forest as they recover from the tree mortality epidemic,” Spurlock said Wednesday. “We will also look at opportunities to redevelop the site, making our energy product more attractive to an electric grid that is currently supplied by ever increasing intermittent generation. We believe a combination biomass/energy storage facility would be very attractive.”

Spurlock shared a redacted copy of the agreement but he said “as far as the value of the contract that's confidential information and we're not allowed to share it. It's with a public utility and the contract terms are confidential. Chinese Station is a private energy plant.”

The agreement is linked to legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in September, IHI Power Services Corporation communications staff said this week.

The law, SB 859, increases requirements for California electricity retailers to enter into five-year contracts for a cumulative 125 megawatts of biomass capacity with facilities that generate energy from wood taken out of high fire hazard zones.

In 2016, the Forest Service estimated more than 100 million trees in California forests were dead or dying, creating fire and safety hazards. Biomass plants like Chinese Station are now classified as renewable energy generators.

The contract with Southern California Edison is the first long-term offer for Pacific Ultrapower Chinese Station since a 30-year power purchase agreement with Pacific Gas & Electric expired and short-term contract extensions ended last year.

Pacific Ultrapower Chinese Station, which employs 25 people and is billed as contributing more than $55 million in economic impact in Tuolumne County, shut down without a contract Nov. 1, said Spurlock said.

“By producing this energy at the Chinese Station plant we’re helping provide some renewed certainty to the biomass industry, which is critical to responsibly meeting California’s energy needs for the future,” said Steve Gross, president and CEO of IHI Power Services, which operates the Chinese Station plant and is owned by IHI Power Generation Corp.

“This agreement also helps protect jobs, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, reduces landfill impact and promotes the state’s long-term forest management goals,” Gross said. “We feel like with this agreement Chinese Station is a part of the overall energy solution in California.”

The plant at Pacific Ultra Power Chinese Station is a 25 megawatt biomass plant. Indirect and induced effects of its operations support 128 total jobs in Tuolumne County and an additional 41 jobs in Santa Clara and Stanislaus counties.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter @GuyMcCarthy.

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