Renewable fuel plan up for discussion

A plant proposed for the Beard Industrial District would turn orchard wood into electricity for the Modesto Irrigation District.

Its board Tuesday will hear a presentation on the 30-megawatt project, which would help the MID meet a state mandate to get a third of its power from renewable sources by 2020.

The plant would burn wood removed from nut and fruit orchards during pruning or replacement of the trees. This could be a boon to growers in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, as open burning of the wood has been just about phased out.

The $85 million project is proposed by Stephen Endsley, a real estate investor and retired cardiologist in Modesto, and Robert Ellery, owner of Bay City Boiler & Engineering Co. in Hayward.

They said last month they would hold off on commenting about the project until it goes to the MID board.

A staff memo released Friday said the Mariposa Road plant could be operating by 2012.

Under the plan, the MID would buy the output over 25 years. The staff estimates it would cost a typical ratepayer about $5 a month more than conventional power sources.

The MID gets 12 percent of its energy from renewable sources, almost entirely wind. The share is expected to rise to 25 percent with wind additions this year and next. It would hit the 33 percent goal with the wood-burning plant.

The MID also is considering a solar plant on north McHenry Avenue that would add 2 percentage points.

The state set the renewable target in an effort to reduce emissions believed to cause a general warming of the planet.

The wood plant would emit carbon dioxide, a leading culprit, but the staff memo said this would not be as bad as leaving the limbs to decay in the orchards. That releases methane, an especially potent gas.

The staff proposes that the board kick off the project Tuesday by designating the MID as the "lead agency" for the state-required study of the plant's environmental impact.

Electricity from wood is not new to the region. A plant in Chinese Camp has burned small trees thinned from Sierra Nevada forests since the 1980s.

The board will meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the district office, 1231 11th St., Modesto.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at or 578-2385.

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