Las Vegas Sun

March 26, 2019

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state government:

Prison shutting down wood-burning power plant

Department of Corrections says facility is losing money

Howard Skolnik

Howard Skolnik

CARSON CITY — An $8 million wood-burning power plant constructed to save energy costs at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City probably will be closed in the next several months.

“It loses money every day,” says Howard Skolnik, director of the state Department of Corrections. “We’ll see if we can get a buyer or another agency or just shut it down.”

The director said the plant was constructed smaller than it should have been, and prison inmates were supposed to operate it. But that didn’t work out. Having state workers run the plant was much more expensive than having inmates on the job, he said.

It was also difficult to keep the wood being supplied from the Lake Tahoe Basin. Jeffrey Mohlenkamp, deputy director of the state Department of Corrections, said the concept was good, but the plant wasn’t designed properly.

Mohlenkamp told the Legislative Subcommittee for Federal Stimulus Oversight on Tuesday that the plant would probably be closed in the next three to four months if it can’t be leased out.

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, said the operation has “not been successful from day one.”

The biomass plant burns limbs, underbrush and plants from the Lake Tahoe Basin for generation of heat and power. It was initially estimated that it would save the prison system about $40,000 a month.

The plant opened in September 2007 and had trouble during its first six months. The efficiency picked up with better supplies of wood and improved operation.

Skolnik said, however, that a study showed the plant could not be operated profitably, even with energy grants.

Mohlenkamp said a study would be conducted “on the lessons learned.”

The state provided $6.5 million for construction and the U.S. Forest Service and federal stimulus money brought the project to $8.8 million.

Mohlenkamp told the legislative subcommittee the project helped clean out the underbrush in the Tahoe Basin, reducing the danger of forest fires.

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