Biomass plant will provide steam for SRS operations

By Lisa Gibson
Posted May 18, 2009, at 3:32 p.m. CST

A steam generating biomass facility approved for the U.S. DOE Savannah River Site in South Carolina will be a critical part of operations upon its completion, slated for December 2011.

The DOE tasked Ameresco Federal Solutions, Inc. in Knoxville, Tenn., with its largest-ever Energy Savings Performance Contract to construct at the site one of the country's largest biomass facilities. The $795 million project will replace a deteriorating D Area coal powerhouse and oil-fired boilers, for a savings of about $34 million a year in energy, operation and maintenance costs, according to DOE. The plant also will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 100,000 tons per year, a significant contribution toward the goal of reducing energy intensity by 30 percent and water intensity by 16 percent by the end of 2015, according to the DOE.

The plant will run on about 322,000 tons of woody biomass per year, including waste from non-SRS timber companies, pellets and wood debris, according to Julie Petersen, DOE public affairs officer. The primary purpose of the facility is steam production, but it will produce about 20 megawatts of electricity as a byproduct, Petersen said. "Steam is a pretty critical part of our day-to-day operation," she said. Steam is used at the site to transport waste, reduce the volume of waste, control nuclear ventilation systems and operate turbines, among other functions. "It's a pretty big deal," she said. "This biomass plant will be much more efficient."

As per the ESPC, Ameresco will finance, install and maintain the equipment-a steam cogeneration plant and two steam boilers-in the federal facilities. The government pays no up-front costs, offers a savings to taxpayers and the company's investment is repaid over time by the DOE from the cost savings the project generates, according to the DOE. Ameresco will be repaid during a 15-year debt service payback period. "It's no more than what we pay to operate the (D Area) facility now," Petersen said.

The project will create 200 to 250 construction jobs, along with 20 more to maintain day-to-day operations once the facility is operational. Construction is scheduled to begin in August.