Architect’s rendering of the new power plant

A new power plant is being planned for the Sioux City area that will turn wood waste into electricity.

Green Star Energy Group is preparing to build a $53-million facility just across the Missouri River in South Sioux City.

Adam Smith, with the Nebraska Forest Service, says it’s a potential game-changer for the region’s foresters as they generate tons of wood by cutting down one particular invasive species.

“We have eastern red cedar continuing to cause problems in grasslands and forests,” Smith says. “We do a lot of active management, but that leaves a significant wood resource on the ground with no place to take it. A power plant, which uses low-quality wood, could be a great outlet for a lot of that material.”

He says there are other sources of wood waste, too.

“We do have a sawmill industry, largely creating pallets, but there is a wood waste from that process,” Smith says. “Also, as emerald ash borer moves in, there’s going to be a great opportunity to utilize some of that wood.”

That invasive red cedar that’s cut down it typically either left in the field or burned.

“Existing markets for wood waste can’t really be much of a solution for this wood that’s coming down from red cedar or emerald ash borer management,” Smith says, “so it really will take a new large facility like the one being proposed by Green Star to make an impact on those wood waste sources.”

Smith says the new facility will accept more of the available resources, especially that red cedar and the ash trees.

“There’s really not a great opportunity available for that, which means you don’t recover any cost because you can’t sell any of the byproduct or the waste from that management,” Smith says. “Any outlet for any of that wood waste is very welcome because a lot of that wood just sits on the ground or goes up in flames.”

Construction should begin on the facility in South Sioux City in the spring.

Lance Hedquist, city administrator of South Sioux City, calls it a win-win situation. He says the plant will use gasification and not burn the wood, so it is better for the environment, too.

“South Sioux City is well-known for its environmental efforts,” Hedquist says. “This blends well with the image of the city and actions that we’ve taken on many fronts.”

With the addition of the gasification power plant, the city will get 57-percent of its energy from renewable sources. Hedquist says citizens and businesses in town ultimately benefit from lower energy costs.