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Energy and Other Markets for Poplar and Willow: Missoula Hybrid Energy

Posted by Greg Crouch | July 25, 2016

Speaker: Tom Platt
Breakout Session D | Discussion Group

The City of Missoula, Montana established a 130 acre hybrid poplar plantation in 2013 – expanded to 185 acres in 2015 – to serve as a land application site for municipal wastewater treatment. Missoula initiated the project to provide tertiary nutrient removal treatment under its municipal wastewater discharge permit, in order to reduce summer impacts to the Clark Fork River and utilize the valuable, nutrient-rich water. The plantation will provide environmental services throughout the life of the project, diverting 117 million gallons of effluent during its first full irrigation season in 2015. In addition to ongoing environmental services, the project will provide wood products sold to offset project construction and operation expenses. Target products will be saw logs milled and sold locally; poplar and willow cuttings for local and regional conservation projects; wood chips for bulking material at the city’s adjacent biosolid composting facility; and other innovative uses of poplar and willow that arise during the life of the project.

Hybrid Energy Group (HEG) was selected as project contractor to develop and manage the site, based on its experience developing small scale renewable energy projects; its solid relationships with Montana conservation nonprofits; and its familiarity with the regional forest products industry. Tom Platt serves as HEG’s project manager and coordinates activities with Missoula’s Wastewater Division; the Montana Department of Environmental Quality; Watershed Consulting, the project forestry consultant; and researchers at the University of Montana.

In addition to providing nutrient abatement services for Missoula’s Wastewater Treatment Plant, the hybrid poplar and native willow plantation offers many opportunities for the marketplace including nursery stock for poplar establishment and providing willow propagation stock for stream bank stabilization projects. Currently we market materials for fencing and shade structures and, as the trees mature, we will sell saw logs and provide a steady supply of chips for compost, mulch or as a carbon source for local fungi growers. To optimize monetary returns we stress maintaining ownership of the logs and adding value by saw milling in-house.