State

MID agrees to reconsider wood-burning power plant

A proposal to turn orchard wood into electricity is still flickering at the Modesto Irrigation District.

The district board, which took a key vote against the project last month, held off Tuesday on a vote that would affirm that position.

Four of the five directors met in closed session and agreed to consider the project again Oct. 12. That will allow Director Cecil Hensley, who was absent Tuesday, to take part.

On Aug. 31, the board voted 3-2 against accepting a study on the project's environmental effects, a needed step before construction could start in the Beard Industrial District, south of Yosemite Boulevard.

Tuesday's agenda included a resolution ending negotiations with the company that proposed to build the plant and sell the power to the MID. The board went into closed session because of the possibility that the project will end up in litigation.

The August vote followed a public hearing in which critics warned of unhealthy emissions and proponents talked of the plant's advanced smokestack controls.

Project partner Stephen Endsley urged the board to reconsider during Tuesday's open session.

"I don't think we really got our message across as well as we should have," he said. "The pollution coming out of the plant is very low."

Endsley also said he would put profits from the plant into a new research center for renewable energy in the Modesto area.

Modesto resident Emerson Drake urged the board to cut all ties with the project.

"We don't need it, you shouldn't want it, and I hope you continue to act that way," he said.

The project mainly would burn wood chips from nut and fruit trees that are removed for new plantings or development.

The 30-megawatt plant would supply about 9 percent of the MID's demand and help it meet a state mandate to get at least 33 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2020.

Endsley, a real estate investor and retired cardiologist in Modesto, proposed the plant with Robert Ellery, owner of a boiler company in Hayward.

They hope to cover 30 percent of the $80 million-plus cost with a federal stimulus grant. That means they have to spend at least 5 percent of the construction money by the end of the year, a tight timeline, Endsley said.

The power would cost the MID 11.2 cents per kilowatt-hour at the start of the 20-year contract, with annual increases capped at 2 percent.

That's more than the 8.5 cents the MID pays on average from all sources, but Endsley noted that it is less than the 17 cents the board has agreed to pay for solar power from a complex proposed for north McHenry Avenue.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at 578-2385 or jholland@modbee.com.

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