DOE awards massive performance contract for biomass project

By Anna Austin | December 22, 2011

The U.S. DOE has given its Final Acceptance Certificate to Ameresco Inc. for the largest single-source energy performance savings contract (EPSC) underway for the federal government.

The $795 million EPSC was awarded to the company in order to finance, design, construct, operate and maintain a biomass cogeneration facility. The plant will provide steam and 30 percent of the electricity needs of the 300-square mile DOE Savannah River Operations Office in Aiken, S.C.

Construction of the 20 MW Savannah River Site Biomass Cogeneration Facility began in 2009. Replacing a coal powerhouse and oil-fired boilers, the facility is expected to generate $944 million in energy, water and other savings during the 19-year performance agreement; $34 million in utility costs during its first year of operations alone. “The old plant we replaced was 60-plus years old, and fairy inefficient,” explained Keith Derrington, Ameresco executive vice president and general manager of federal operations. “It was using tremendous amounts of energy and water for its condenser process, and it also required a lot of operation and maintenance support. Those three factors will contribute to the expected savings.”

Additionally, the previous plant was the largest emitter of particulate emissions in South Carolina, and the new facility will be much cleaner, according to Derrington. It consists of three biomass-fuelled energy plants, two of which provide steam only for their process areas, and one larger plant that generates both steam and power.  

Building one large plant wasn’t feasible, according Derrington. “Geographically it didn’t make sense to try to connect all of those different thermal loads,” he explained. “There’s a localized plant at two locations that provide thermal energy, and that allowed us to eliminate four miles of steam pipeline.” 

Segregating the plants created about half a million dollars in annual energy savings, he added. Collectively, they will annually require 325,000 tons of fuel, consisting of forest residue and wood chips leftover from the state’s robust logging industry. “We have four fuel suppliers under contract,” Derrington said. “We’re primarily taking the unmerchantable part of the trees leftover from logging operations that support the pulp and paper and timber industries, whatever is left behind.” Fuel is trucked to the plant on a daily basis.

While performance tests at the facility have been underway for the past six weeks, Derrington said the company expects the facility to reach full operations during the first week of January. About 25 full-time jobs will be created on site, adding to the estimated 800 mechanical, construction, engineering and supply sector jobs created since work on the project began.