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Fort Drum Ditches Coal For 100% Renewable Biomass

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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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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