The development of clean, renewable energy will be a growth industry in the 21st century,said Dr. Chu, a distinguished scientist and co-winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1997.
The $795 million plant, scheduled to open in December 2011, will burn 322,000 tons of wood products and shredded tires a year and emit less pollution than the aging coal-fired facility it will replace.
It will also generate, in addition to electricity and steam for use at SRS, about 800 construction jobs, he said. And it will pay for itself through cost savings.
Dr. Chu, appointed by President Obama and sworn into office on Jan. 21, joined more than 100 other guests to break ground for the 20 megawatt plant, which is being built by Ameresco Federal Solutions Inc. of Knoxville, Tenn.
Although the U.S. has about one-fourth of the worlds coal reserves, our country also has an obligation to take advantage of the economic advantages of renewable energy.
The question is which nations will export such technology and which nations will be buying it from elsewhere, he said. It is ours to lose. In this clean energy economywhich I consider inevitablethe United States will become a world leader.
The steam-generating plant will be the governments largest, though there is a larger private one in Virginia, according to an Energy Department fact sheet.
Estimates indicate the project will save $34 million a year in energy, operation and maintenance costs and reduce air emissions, including 100,000 tons of greenhouse gas annually from the coal now being burned at the facility the biomass plant will replace.
U.S. Rep Jim Clyburn, one of the speakers at Mondays event, said the federal government is showing leadership by example in undertaking projects like the SRS facility.
We believe wholeheartedly in President Obamas initiative to make this country energy independent, he said. The transition to a clean energy economy is inevitable.
Also at the groundbreaking were U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and U.S. Reps. Gresham Barrett, Joseph Wilson and John Barrow; and S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford.
Prior to his appointment, Dr. Chu was director of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, and professor of Physics and Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California. Monday marked his first visit to SRS as secretary of energy.