Today, I toured the Piedmont Green Power project, along with other members of the Pine 2 Energy Coalition, that is currently under construction in Barnesville, Georgia, about an hour SW of Atlanta. The 54 MW biopower facility is being developed by Rollcast Energy, a company of Atlantic Power Corporation.
As you turn onto the newly constructed road off Highway 41, the first thing you notice is a substation newly constructed by Georgia Power to service the plant. A sign is posted identifying the project as receiving government funding. As you drive further down the road, you see the plant –most notable to me as I approached were the giant conveyors that will transport wood throughout the facility. The site was abuzz with parked cars and construction workers. Representatives with the plant state that there are 350 workers employed in construction and associated work in building the plant. Strangely or not, I thought, “wow, this thing is actually getting built!
With all of the biomass project proposals that have been announced in the state and subsequent withdrawals or failures, it is surprising to see.
The project is being financed by the parent company, Atlantic Power, providing about half of the capital, and the remainder is being funded by international banks that specialize in renewable energy and project finance. They are also counting on a Treasury Grant that could be awarded to them after 60 days of operation. They have a 20-year Power Purchase Agreement with Georgia Power.
The project is nestled in a large “wood basket” in central Georgia and their fuel supply is expected to be clean woody waste, primarily slash from area forest operations. (Wood basket is a phrase commonly used to describe areas with lots of tree farms and well-established forestry industries.) The plant requires one million gallons of water per day. Most of it (95%) will be supplied by the nearby wastewater treatment facility and the rest will be potable water. These resources, along with local leadership and support, were key factors in the selection of its location. The technology for the project will be a bubbling fluidized bed boiler. This technology is considered the best available control technology to date. They plan to sell the clean wood ash to farmers as a soil amendment. Rollcast is expecting to begin commissioning the new power plant in May, with full operations expected in the last quarter of 2012.
Green jobs is such a common phrase, it’s nice to see actual employment in the clean energy industry. Beyond the short term jobs I saw on the construction site, once the plant is up and running we expect to see another 75 to 100 full-time permanent jobs in plant operations and providing the plant with the woody waste that will fuel the boiler here in Barnesville.
A standalone biopower plant of this kind isn’t the most efficient type of bioenergy technology. The use of biomass for heat or combined heat and power is more efficient, and preferable from a climate mitigation perspective. Depending on the future strength of timber markets in this part of the state, we have some questions about long term supplies of true woody waste residuals, 5 to 10 years out. But by most accounts, this project appears to be headed in positive direction with multiple benefits to the community and the state.
We at SACE have seen a lot of projects get proposed that never went forward. We can count three times more project proposals than actual biopower in operation or under construction. So seeing this project rolling forward definitely caught our attention.
Only time will tell. But, we think it’s definitely a project to watch.