A new biomass plant is now powering much of the Savannah River Site. Earlier this month, the U.S. Energy Department opened the facility, which generates steam power by burning wood chips.
SRS spokesman Jim Giusti said the new facility replaces a 50-year-old coal plant, “It was very expensive, very old,” he told South Carolina Radio Network, “We were spending millions annually just to maintain it.” He said it would be cost-prohibitive to bring the coal plant into compliance with new federal regulations.
In 2007, the Massachusetts energy service firm Ameresco won a consulting contract from the Energy Department. After studying the site, Ameresco officials recommended the biomass plant as the best way to reduce energy costs at SRS.
A big factor in the decision was that Energy Department officials allow timber companies to use the site. “There’s a significant amount of (wood) waste that was just being left behind on the forest floor,” said Keith Derrington, Ameresco’s general manager for federal operations, “So we had a ready source of fuel within a short distance of the plant.”
The new facility is the largest federally-owned biomass plant in the country and cost $195 million to build. Ameresco paid for the start-up costs, which the Energy Department will reimburse through its cost-savings in the coming years.
The plant will convert 322,000 tons of fuel each year, according to Ameresco– equivalent to about 50 truckloads per day.
The plant will also use shredded tires as an energy source. Ameresco received approval this week for a new facility near Jackson that will process the tires into pellets which can be combined with the wood chips. Derrington said the chemicals in tires have higher energy content than wood. Under the terms of Ameresco’s permits, however, tires cannot make up more than 10 percent of its total fuel.
The company has promised the Energy Department $944 million in savings over the next 19 years. From an emissions perspective, Ameresco’s projections claim the biomass facility will release 400 fewer tons of particulate matter each year and 3,500 less tons of sulfur dioxide annually.
“It solved a major environmental problem for them,” Derrington said.
Ameresco has done other work in South Carolina. It also operates a much smaller biomass facility at the Federal Correctional Institute in Estill.