Biomass Black River biomass plant at Fort Drum

Published on February 20th, 2014 | by Tina Casey


Fort Drum Ditches Coal For 100% Renewable Biomass

February 20th, 2014 by  

With fallout from the Duke Energy coal ash spill in North Carolina heating up to the boiling point, now is a good time to check into the US Army’s ambitious renewable energy program, which necessarily involves taking its facilities off of coal dependency and into more safe, reliable and sustainable sources of energy.

In the latest development, a coal-fired power plant at Fort Drum, New York, has been refitted to burn local biomass, and it will be providing up to 100 percent of the facility’s electricity, 24/7.

Black River biomass plant at Fort Drum

Black River biomass plant at Fort Drum (cropped) courtesy of ReEnergy Holdings.

Carbon Neutral Energy And Waste Reclamation

For the record, let’s say that burning stuff to generate electricity, even if it is carbon neutral biomass, seems a little old school compared to solar, wind, and geothermal technology.

However, in the context of the company running this operation, ReEnergy Holdings LLC, carbon emissions are only part of the sustainability equation. The other part is waste reclamation, and that plays a big role here. ReEnergy has facilities that draw fuel in the form of wood waste from local forest industries. Another source of its wood waste is recycled construction debris, also from local and regional sources, and ReEnergy also states that the ash is re-used.

100% Renewable Biomass For Fort Drum

ReEnergy’s Fort Drum facility, Black River, underwent a $34 million makeover to switch from coal to biomass. The plant generates about 422,000 net MWh (megawatt hours) of electricity annually.

The Army Energy Initiatives Task Force, which was formed in 2011 to streamline the Army’s transition to sustainable energy, announced yesterday that it had coordinated with the Defense Logistics Agency Energy to purchase up to 28 MW from the facility under a 20-year power purchase agreement.

Although Fort Drum will still be connected to the grid, according to EITF the Black Water plant is capable of providing all of its electricity, which buffers this important military facility (home of the 10th Mountain Division) from grid disruptions.

This is EITF’s largest project to date, and that’s not the only renewable energy feather in Fort Drum’s cap.

Fort Drum is a leader in geothermal potential on Department of Defense properties, with a series of geothermal heating and cooling projects dating back to 2004. That’s the Bush Administration, for those of you keeping score at home.

The facility also has achieved millions in savings with a series of energy conservation and efficiency improvements in an initiative that also dates back to the Bush Administration.

About That Coal Ash Spill…

When you talk about national security, it’s pretty difficult to keep environmental security out of the conversation in light of the recent series of fossil fuel disasters, including Freedom Industry’s West Virginia coal-washing chemical spill, which more than six weeks after its discovery is still causing problems in the local water supply system, and the aforementioned Duke Energy coal ash spill in North Carolina.

In North Carolina, aside from the potential for significant harm to the Dan River, the possibility of criminal charges has been raised. Here’s a snippet from the WRAL:

The federal inquiry into a spill of toxic coal ash into the Dan River is expanding to other similar ponds throughout the state and to specific state employees, according to federal subpoenas obtained by WRAL News through a public records request.

One subpoena asks for documents that relates to the company’s regulation of 13 other coal ash ponds throughout the state that were not part of the Feb. 2 spill but have been the subject of litigation.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to coal ash disposal issues nationwide, so stay tuned.

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • Now what really happens is this, hood cleaning companies are in business to make money. That being said if they have a customer or are giving an estimate to a potential customer. They happen to notice an issue that is not in compliance with the codes. As soon as they put a sticker on your hood the technician who is licensed and signs that sticker becomes liable for that issue if it catches fire. Furthermore if some one else came in for any reason and they reported it the technician is in big trouble they can lose their license or a number of other bad things can happen.

  • Joseph Zorzin

    “For the record, let’s say that burning stuff to generate electricity, even if it is carbon neutral biomass, seems a little old school compared to solar, wind….”

    solar and wind “farms have plenty of negative features- I hope you understand that

    • Bob_Wallace

      Sure wind and solar have plenty of negative features. They give us cheaper electricity than coal. That’s a negative feature if you are a coal industry supporter.

      Wind and solar cut our use of fossil fuels and reduce CO2 emissions. Another negative if you’ve shorted the planet.

      Wind and solar cause a lot less environmental damage compared to mountain top removal, coal ash dumps, etc. One more negative if you’re into making things ugly.

      • Doug Cutler

        Bob, I’m just glad you’re on our side.

        • Haha, seriously 😀

        • Bob_Wallace

          They told me I’d mellow with age. A few weeks from 70 and it hasn’t kicked in yet….

          Back to Zorzin – yes, wind and solar do have some downsides. But we have yet to find any perfect solutions.

          We’re stuck with having to pick the least problematic. Wind and solar beat the pants off coal, gas and nuclear.

          Later on we might get lucky and figure out enhanced geothermal. That could be a lower impact source. And if we get immensely lucky we might figure out fusion. But we can’t wait for either to prove themselves. Our boat is sinking and we need to bail with our boots if that’s all we’ve got.

          • Joseph Zorzin

            I had a 3 MW solar “farm” built behind my neighborhood. The removed all the topsoil, leaving the bare sand subsoil- so that acreage, which was a young forest is no longer sequestering carbon nor producing oxygen. Also, it is next to a river, several large vernal pools and a state wildlife property. There were several rare and endangered species on the site. It is, therefore, severely impacted. Now, how about the damage done to mountain tops when installing large wind turbines? It’s substantial. I’m not saying such wind and solar installations shouldn’t be built, but the environmental impact in many cases is substantial. I’m not in any way in support of coal or nuclear- just trying to keep the discussion honest, wind and solar have substantial impacts in SOME areas. Also, would any of you like to have a wind “farm” behind YOUR house?

          • MorinMoss

            So the solar farm was poorly sited; that’s a problem with ANY generation source.

          • Joseph Zorzin

            It wasn’t just the one behind my ‘hood, here in north central Mass. Several others of similar size have been built in recent years, all but one were built after they buried the original soil under hard packed gravel- so a lot of acres of once “green” landscape are no longer green. And, how about blasting mountain tops for wind turbines? Not as destructive as blasting for coal, but not particularly kind to the mountain tops either. Take a look at the following video showing the construction of a wind “farm” in the Berkshires of western Mass.: I’m not saying all wind and solar are bad, but only they’re not all good, just like most forms of energy- they can be done reasonably well or not. Personally, I’m in favor of woody biomass- since, as a forester, I see that harvesting biomass as part of a thinning project is excellent for forestry.

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