WestRock Virginia Corp. v. United States, No. 18-1877 (Fed. Cir. 2019)Annotate this Case
WestRock’s Virginia paper mill was fueled by steam from boilers that burned various fuels, including fossil fuels. In 2013, WestRock placed into service a cogeneration facility that burns open-loop biomass, material not originally intended for use as fuel. Steam from a new biomass-fired boiler and an old paper mill boiler are comingled and fed into a steam turbine generator. Electricity is generated after WestRock diverts some steam to the paper mill for use in the industrial paper process. In 2013, WestRock submitted an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 Section 1603 application seeking a grant; it claimed that its qualifying property cost $286,191,571 and requested $85,857,471. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory determined that WestRock used only 49.1 percent of the steam energy to produce electricity and that fossil fuel still comprised about 0.22 percent of its boiler fuel. The Department of Treasury reduced the cost basis by 51.2 percent and awarded WestRock $38,881,758—30 percent of the cost of what Treasury deemed qualifying property. The Claims Court affirmed, finding that Section 1603 provides for reimbursement of only costs associated with electricity production at WestRock’s facility. The court afforded deference to nonbinding Treasury guidance, which provides for allocation of the cost basis between qualifying and non-qualifying activities. The Federal Circuit affirmed. Section 1603 provides for a grant in the amount of 30 percent of the basis or cost of any qualified property that is used as an integral part of a facility that uses open-loop biomass to produce electricity.