Loyalton’s co-gen plant re-opens

Diana Jorgenson
Portola Editor

Sierra Pacific Industries announced last week that it will reopen its Loyalton co-generation plant, now known as a biomass electrical power plant, Jan. 4.
“SPI has resolved contractual issues with its power purchaser, allowing the plant to begin operations in early January,” said plant manager Jim Turner.
“We will be bringing more fuel to the plant and will make an effort to call employees back to work who were terminated.”
Turner spent last week getting the plant ready to re-open: snow plowing, clearing the scales and fixing breaks from the last cold spell.
The Loyalton facility closed for repairs in September. Instead of reopening in November, it closed altogether, citing poor economic conditions, and laid off 19 employees.
Sierra County Supervisor Dave Goicoechea, along with Supervisor Pat Whitley, represents Loyalton citizens and was delighted. “The re-opening of SPI’s biomass facility is a major benefit to the town and the county. It is the first step to getting a stable and reliable power source for the town of Loyalton and for Sierra Valley.”
Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative also applauded the announcement by Sierra Pacific Industries to restart the Loyalton facility.
PSREC General Manager Bob Marshall said, "This is a great New Year's gift for the SPI employees and our local economy."
Marshall explained the SPI facility in Loyalton does not sell power directly to the co-op system, but it does support overall electric reliability in the region.
In the past, the facility's operation has allowed the cooperative to switch to the Nevada electric grid during outages on the PG&E Feather River Canyon system, resulting in shorter power outages for co-op members.
The same flexibility also works in reverse. The facility also allows the cooperative to keep the lights on in the Portola and Loyalton regions when Sierra Pacific Power Company’s—now Nevada Energy—main powerline from Truckee to Loyalton experiences an outage.
Marshall said that while the SPI Loyalton facility was online, the co-op supported the Portola and Loyalton regions three times in the past year.
Nevada Energy is the contractual purchaser of energy produced at the Loyalton plant.
Sierra Pacific Power’s decision to become Nevada Energy and divest itself of its California customer base (although not its transmission lines) upset more than the applecart at SPI.
Nevada Energy is in the process of selling its California service holdings to a Canadian firm, CalPECO. The sale is before the California Public Utility Commission at this time.
Truckee-Donner Public Utilities District and PSREC wish to purchase the service areas appropriate to their districts, and locals express concerns that Nevada Energy’s crews, based at Tahoe, will make them a secondary concern during outages.
Truckee-Donner PUD, PSREC, Sierra County, Plumas County, and the cities of Loyalton and Portola have intervened at the California Public Utility Commission in the proposed sale of Nevada Energy's California service territory. They hope for a hearing with the commission in mid-January. One of the key concerns raised in the intervention is regional electric-service reliability.
While the restoration of the Loyalton SPI biomass facility is the first step in ensuring reliable electrical service for the entire region, locals also see it as the first step in creating local jobs and improving the economic climate in Loyalton, which has been hit hard by the recession.
Increased cooperation between the Forest Service and biomass facilities, while turning “doodles” (slash piles) into usable energy, will spawn jobs for truckers and perhaps other workers. That is the hope.

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