The largest federally owned biomass plant in the U.S. could begin providing nearly half of Savannah River Site’s electricity needs by Jan. 10.
“We’ve been burning some fuel since September and undergoing a series of performance tests and final checkouts of the system,” said Nicole Bulgarino, an engineer and implementation director for Tennessee-based Ameresco, which has a 20-year, $795 million contract to build and operate the plant.
The unusual steam-generating plant will convert 322,000 tons of fuel per year – about 50 truckloads per day of wood chips and shredded tires – into about 20 megawatts of power.
Ken Chacey, the company’s site manager, said the facility has produced up to 17 megawatts during recent tests, and on Thursday passed a U.S. Department of Energy on-site performance and observation test.
“In all, it’s made a little over 3 million kilowatt hours during a six-week testing period,” he said. “That power was actually used on the site, and was first put into the grid on Nov. 8.”
The fuel sources will include chipped forest products to be procured from within a 50-mile radius of the F Area plant.
The plant will also burn up to 30 percent – or 96,600 tons per year – of finely shredded tires that will be supplied by a separate facility Ameresco is building on 18 acres in nearby Jackson.
The tire processing site should be complete in early 2012 and will require permits administered by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Division of Land Management.
DHEC spokesman Adam Myrick said Ameresco’s permit request is being processed, and a public notice with more details about the document could be available on the agency’s Web site as early as next week.
In addition to creating a demand for wood chips, the biomass project is also aimed at reducing air pollution from an aging, coal-fired power plant in the site’s D Area that will be retired as the biomass project reaches full operations.
The coal plant has been operating since the 1950s, and currently emits 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide fumes, 400 tons of particulate pollution and 3,500 tons of sulfur dioxide per year, according to DOE. Those emissions will be eliminated once the coal-fired site is closed.
The construction project, begun in 2009, represents a $150 million outlay by Ameresco and has employed as many as 800 workers. The completed plant will create about 25 permanent jobs, not including private haulers who bring wood chips to the plant.