Smethport moves closer to biomass-fueled CHP facility

By Lisa Gibson
Posted August 11, 2009, at 2:30 p.m. CST

The borough of Smethport, Pa., is getting closer to realizing its plans for a combined-heat-and-power demonstration plant that would run on woody biomass from neighboring forests. The town, nestled in the Alleghany Mountains of north-central Pennsylvania, would be the first in the U.S. with such a system.

The city selected the engineering firm for the project out of a pool of 12 applicants, according to Mayor Ross Porter. Germany-based Lahmeyer International will be the team leader, focusing on biomass combustion, electric transmission and economic aspects. Also in the company's proposal are: U.S.-based O'Brien & Gere, which will concentrate on environmental aspects, local support, regulatory aspects, site evaluation and development and constructability and estimating; Germany-based Global Environment Facility, which will focus on district heating transportation and distribution of the piping system; and Seeger AG, also in Germany, which will be in charge of plant planning and engineering. Requests for qualifications were sent to 65 firms and responses came from Denmark, Austria, Sweden, Germany and the U.S., according to Porter.

The plant would provide electricity to the grid to power the community of 1,700 residents and 830 homes. The project also would supply heat the for the community via a district heating pipe system, which would be installed at the same time the aging water system is replaced, affecting construction costs for both projects, according to Porter. American Municipal Power Ohio, the power company working with Smethport, has been integral to the project. "They've been amazing," Porter said. The company works exclusively with communities that have their own power systems.

The cost of the project is yet to be determined. "It's a dart board on the wall," Porter said. The project has received $150,000 in funding, including $75,000 in feasibility study funds from the USDA, according to Porter. Phase one of the project, the feasibility study, should be completed in October. Phase two will entail engineering and design plans and phase three is construction of the system, according to Porter. Phases two and three cannot proceed unless positive results are established in Phase one. A concrete timeline has not been released.

The project also includes a building and research outreach center, but that is not included in the current feasibility study. In addition, the borough is looking for other uses for the heat produced at the plant and is considering pellet or briquette manufacturers and greenhouses, Porter said.

The search for engineering firms began in March and applicants were evaluated according to a weighted matrix system with 21 criteria, Porter said. The first four criteria were "must haves," he said, and any firms that did not fit them were eliminated. They included CHP experience, feasibility study experience, district heating experience, and an application that meets the content and format requirements. "Lahmeyer International…was considered the Cadillac-or perhaps more accurately the Mercedes Benz-of the applicants and was the evaluators' top choice," Porter said.

Pennsylvania-based international engineering consulting firm Gannett Fleming, Inc. will coordinate with the Lahmeyer team and oversee the water system infrastructure replacement project.

It's anticipated that a successful demonstration project in Smethport would stimulate the local economy by keeping energy dollars in the community and helping to stabilize the regional timber industry and keeping forest crews working, according to a press release from the borough. The project would also generate jobs and spawn eco-energy tourism.

For more information on this project, see "Reinventing Smethport's Forest Legacy" in the June Biomass Magazine at