Officials at the Savannah River Site celebrated the operational startup of the Biomass Cogeneration Facility on Monday, a project completed through a private-public partnership expected to result in $944 million in cost-savings to the site over 19 years.Contractor Ameresco's biomass facility, a 34-acre operation that uses woodchips and tires from the areas surrounding the site to put through a process to create steam, was constructed through a 19-year, $795-million energy-savings performance contract to replace a 1950s-era coal-burning powerhouse that was due for replacement."The department's energy-savings performance contract with Ameresco will bring about this guaranteed energy and cost savings. This successful startup builds on our past achievements putting clean energy initiatives to work," said DOE's Savannah River Site manager Dave Moody.The facility operates 24 hours per day with trucks full of wood chips entering the facility, being inclined at more than 60 degrees and dumping the wood chips to go through a conveyer process, where they will be resized and pulled into boilers in the facility.Eventually, the wood chips in the biomass facility will create 100 percent of the steam needed on site and 30 percent of the energy needed."Nearly three years ago, we joined here at this site and broke ground. Since then, together, we have built this award-winning 34-acre renewable energy facility, the largest biomass fuel plant of any federal government site anywhere in our nation," said Ameresco CEO George Sakellaris. "Ameresco has guaranteed that this plant will reduce energy, water, fuel, operations and maintenance costs by approximately $944 million. ... It's a win-win."Sakellaris said the project has already seen a cost-savings since it began functioning late last year.The facility will also provide a line to the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility under construction at SRS and will serve the Defense Waste Processing Facility and H-Canyon.Under Secretary of Energy Tom D'Agostino said it is "tremendous" to have not only cutting-edge technology but also the funding mechanisms to put it in place."We in the administration believe the U.S. can, and we must be, a world leader in clean energy," he said.Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., said the new facility on-site, which employed approximately 800 people at the peak of construction and will employ 25 people in full operation, is beneficial not only for the Site but also for area lumber yards, restaurants and trucking companies. He added that the biomass facility is an initiative that the political parties can come together on.The D-Area coal-burning facility is current in warm status and is expected to be officially shut down this summer.The biomass initiative is in line with the Site's Enterprise SRS vision for the future, Moody said, as it will be reducing greenhouse gas and other emissions and using new technologies."This really is about using the expertise on the site for new missions and, in this case, clean energy," Moody said. "There are no federal dollars involved other than what it would cost us for power on an annual basis. This plant is designed to operate in excess of 45 years, and so we're going to get our payback totally in 20 years. Anything after that it's just return on that investment, and we can reinvest those dollars into other missions."The facility is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 100,000 tons per year, reduce sulfur dioxide by 2,500 tons per year and reduce nitrous oxide by 3,500 tons per year, according to Ameresco.Anna Dolianitis is a reporter for the Aiken Standard. She covers the Department of Energy's Savannah River Site, as well as court and legal matters affecting Aiken County. She has been with the Aiken Standard since August 2010.
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