The Twin Biomass Sisters of Franklin and Madison Counties

Georgia Renewable Power is commissioning two new 58-MW biomass power facilities in Georgia while planning a redesign at its flagship plant in North Carolina.
By Ron Kotrba | April 24, 2019

The U.S. added 68 MW of biomass power last year, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but Georgia Renewable Power LLC is about to flip the switch on two biomass power plants in the Peach State that will nearly double this figure. The company has been relatively quiet about its achievements. While GRP’s name has appeared in a smattering of press releases issued by project partners and subcontractors, the company itself has issued little information to the press in the way of official releases or announcements—it doesn’t even have a functioning website. But don’t be fooled by GRP’s stealth mode, as the biomass power startup is making big strides in decarbonizing the grid.

GRP’s first operating biomass power plant is in Lumberton, North Carolina, not in Georgia as its name might suggest. Raymon Bean and Dave Shaffer founded GRP about five years ago. Their first order of business for the Lumberton project was securing a power purchase agreement (PPA) and a renewable energy certificates (RECs) contract, says Ciaran McManus, GRP’s assets and operations manager. McManus relocated from Ireland to North Carolina two years ago to run GRP’s biomass projects, through Kansas City, Missouri-based Designer Group USA asset management.

GRP acquired a chicken litter burner and a 20-year PPA from Duke Power with RECs tied to it, and the company bought an old coal-fired power plant in Lumberton, North Carolina, to retrofit. “That’s not easy because it’s a 35-year-old coal-fired plant, which is a very straightforward fuel to burn,” McManus says. “Poultry litter is a completely different fuel. The ash content is typically between 18 and 22 percent—a factor four times greater than coal—and there’s a lot of challenges with that. The Btu, moisture and sulfur content varies.”

With nearly 20 years in the power business, McManus says he has worked with virtually every fuel out there—gas, biomass, coal, and even solar and wind. After meeting with GRP owners in London two years ago, he was excited about the offer to work for GRP. “Burning litter, I was intrigued by that,” he says.

Phase 1 in Lumberton consisted of converting the coal plant to burn biomass—30 percent poultry litter and 60 to 70 percent construction and demolition (C&D) waste and green waste wood chips. 

“Managing your feedstock is all biomass is,” says Carey Davis, GRP’s executive vice president. Davis’ path with GRP began about five years ago, as GRP founder Bean was close with the contractor for whom Davis worked.

“I built the first plant in North Carolina,” he says. “Later on, when I joined GRP, they were starting Phase 2 of that plant. I came to execute the projects and grow this company.”

Davis says GRP’s goal has always been to use as much C&D waste as possible. “We teamed up with a large supplier in the Southeast, Canal Wood LLC, to help us agglomerate smaller suppliers in the area,” he says. “All in all, our wood feedstock in Lumberton today is mainly 30 percent C&D and 70 percent green waste wood. A confident supply is what we need, and we trust our suppliers.”

At 22 MW net using up to 65 percent C&D and green wood waste, McManus says the plant currently consumes 300 to 350 tons of poultry litter per day, or 90,000 tons a year. 

When it comes to the green chips GRP burns, McManus says, “We don’t take quality green chips. We use waste wood from forestry, like top limbs and mulch.” McManus says GRP spent one-and-a-half years constructing and commissioning the retrofitted plant. “I arrived just as this was completed,” he says.

With Phase 1 complete, GRP swiftly moved into Phase 2, which involved a project to capture waste heat to fuel three dryers in a system co-designed with IMI Industrial Services Group that allows the waste heat to bypass the cooling tower, along with a condensing loop. “This takes waste heat from the cooling tower and generates RECs,” Davis says. Under the current state thermal REC scheme, the company is not allowed to dry its own fuel for power generation, but it can sell the dried fuel and generate RECs. “We have wood offtake agreements and sell that dried wood to local pellet producers,” Davis says.

McManus tells Biomass Magazine that GRP’s Lumberton plant is currently selling about 1,000 dry tons of wood per week. “We’re commissioning the dryers at the moment, so we’ll be increasing capacity soon,” he says. “We hope to produce between 2,000 and 3,000 dry tons a week for sale to area pellet mills and chipping companies.”

The new setup is basically another version of combined heat and power (CHP), McManus says. “The waste energy from the cooling water normally goes to the atmosphere,” he says. “We’re capturing 40 percent of it to dry wood. It’s not free—there’s always a cost—but it is energy that’s recaptured.”

Phase 3, currently in design, will take poultry litter combustion to a whole new level. “The third phase is a completely new power plant in Lumberton,” McManus says. “We’re currently burning 35 percent poultry litter with plans to get to 40 percent this summer, but we need to get to 100 percent to maximize our PPA.”

The RECs generated in Lumberton are directly related to the energy input from poultry litter. If the energy input is 20 percent poultry litter and 80 percent wood, then the facility only generates RECs for 20 percent. “We’re highly incentivized to burn 100 percent litter,” McManus says. “We get rewarded for doing that, but it’s also a major waste problem. North Carolina is the second largest poultry producer in the U.S., so getting rid of all that poultry waste is a big issue.”

Davis says the new Lumberton plant has been on the horizon for some time. “It’ll be a cool plant—there’s nothing like it in the state, or the world,” he says, qualifying this by adding Fibrominn in Benson, Minnesota, is now offline. “We’ll take 100 percent poultry litter, burn it, sell the ash for fertilizer and dry wood for bedding houses. It’ll be a full, homogeneous circle of life for a biomass plant. It’s pretty neat. We’re proud of it.”

McManus says GRP plans to have the new plant operational by 2022. The new facility will be capable of generating 40 MW of power and will consume 450,000 tons of poultry litter per year. It will also feature four dryers operating on waste heat. GRP will continue to run the current plant until the new one comes online.

Once the new Lumberton plant is operational, Davis says what will be done with the existing facility is still “up in the air,” but GRP has some solid ideas. “We thought about using the existing plant to burn swine waste,” he says. “There’s 8 MW of swine in the existing PPA.” McManus says GRP is seriously looking into this. “Swine slurry presents big challenges though,” he says. “It’s 80 to 90 percent moisture, which is not good. With university partners we are looking at several options, including the use of dry presses to get the water out, and then pelleting it.”

Twin Sisters
As operations and a new design phase progress in Lumberton, a big priority for GRP is going live with its two nearly complete power plants in Franklin and Madison counties in Georgia. These two 58 MW net, 65 MW gross, biomass power plants are “twin sisters,” McManus says. While construction officially began in January 2018, Davis says work began on these projects more than two years ago. “March 6, 2017, was my first day at GRP, and I started working on these from day one,” he says. “We poured the boiler foundations in January 2018. These projects have been every day of my life since. We’re not done yet, but I can see the finish line.” Twenty-five months after Davis’ first day, the Franklin and Madison projects are 98 percent complete.

While the two Georgia projects began in early 2017, their origins were much earlier. Davis says in 2005 the Atlanta-based Georgia Power utility company issued a request for proposal (RFP) on a renewables package that included biomass. There were no takers on the biomass portion and, years later, the sunset date was approaching when GRP bought up several PPAs, combined them into one and then divided the numbers into two so, as Davis says, “two counties could reap the benefits.” GRP’s PPAs with Georgia Power are 30-year contracts.

In April 2018, GRP contracted with Veolia Energy Operating Services LLC to operate and maintain all three of its biomass power plants. Veolia had been operating the Lumberton plant under a short-term contract for a year prior to the April 2018 deal. Biomass Magazine reached out to Veolia to discuss the contract, but Matt Burgard, communications manager with Veolia North America, said negotiations are still ongoing and the company cannot discuss the agreement until the terms are finalized. Davis says GRP has had good experience with Veolia so far. “They’ve assembled great biomass teams,” he says. “And they’re in the process of assembling our teams in Madison and Franklin counties.”

Georgia Renewable Power-Franklin LLC is constructed on a greenfield site, according to Davis, while Georgia Renewable Power-Madison LLC is a greenfield project on a brownfield site. “In Franklin, there was an original 22 MW PPA tied with that land, so GRP bought it and added megawatts to it,” he says. For the Madison project, GRP bought an old Weyerhaeuser facility for the infrastructure. “It had an existing interconnect,” Davis says. “We had to upgrade it, but we decided to locate the project there for ease of access. It also has offices there.”

GRP had originally planned for the Franklin project to use equipment from an existing power plant in Gormania, West Virginia. BL Harbert International performed the dismantling and relocation. However, GRP could not secure financing for the project if old equipment were to be installed. “It was just packaged up and sits in a warehouse,” Davis tells Biomass Magazine.

With the PPAs in place, the company needed financing to get the twin sisters built. “Raymon had the equity, but we needed $350 million to build the plants,” Davis says. “We did a lot of things upfront. We locked in the long lead time items early. I did the site work and piling prior to closing financing. GRP self-performed the concrete work to preserve time. We had piles in the ground but nothing else ‘til after we closed the loan. We spent our money wisely and made progress as best we could, so when MasTec Power Corp. showed up, they could hit the ground running.”

MasTec Power was hired as the EPC contractor and subcontracted Siemens to provide SST-600 steam turbines, SGen-100A air-cooled generators and three-phase, step-up transformer technologies for the projects. Siemens also delivered an SPPA-T3000 control system to maximize overall plant performance through data analytics while also improving safety, efficiency and reliability. Amec Foster Wheeler boilers were also secured and installed in the twin sisters. Designer Group USA serves as the lead project engineering firm. 

GRP’s Georgia plants will rely on C&D waste, requiring 42.5 tons of 10 percent moisture fuel an hour, according to Davis, or 60 tons per hour of 30 percent moisture fuel. “Our target is to use as much waste feedstock as possible,” McManus says. “We want to avoid using green chips. We are working on getting our full volumes from waste, and within a year we hope to have the volume required for both plants. It’s a lot of waste wood that is required. It takes a lot of processing. We’re trying to get as much as we can by rail. I should also mention we’re fully permitted to burn old rail ties. A lot of these are going to landfills. We’ve also installed state-of-the-art emissions technologies.”

McManus says the first firing of the boilers is scheduled for May, and from there the plant will increase to baseload power production by late June or early July. “We’re pretty busy now,” he says. “We have our fuel yards commissioned and our dryers up and running.” Davis and McManus say GRP is implementing the same dryer technology in Franklin and Madison counties employed in Lumberton, just with bigger dryers.

“It’s a crazy schedule-driven job—a tension-driven job—but we all think we’re going to survive,” Davis quips. “We’re close to the first fire. We’re halfway through commissioning. It’s been a team-building project nothing short of challenging. The main challenge was preserving our schedule while trying to close financing. That was a major hurdle, but otherwise, just normal construction challenges in a tighter window than anyone can imagine. But these plants will be great for the community. They’re state-of-the-art and close to utility grade. We didn’t cut any corners on suppliers or the quality of design. We’re hoping to have the most efficient biomass plants in the U.S.”

Author: Ron Kotrba
Senior Editor, Biomass Magazine