PSNH biomass plant burns millions of tons of wood chips
NEWINGTON - The pungent aroma of fresh wood chips permeates the wood yard at Public Service of New Hampshire's Schiller Station.
Three by three, trucks drive up to the long lifts, lock in their tractor-trailers and send them into the air at almost unimaginable angles to dump their 30-ton loads of chips into the holds.
They have come from southern New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts to deliver fuel to the plant.
For the past six years, Schiller Station has been burning a half-million ton of wood chips each year at its biomass plant in Newington, reaching 3 million tons received and burned earlier this fall. That represents about a $95 million boost to the regional economy through the purchase of wood chips.
About 60 percent of the wood chips come from New Hampshire sources, 15 percent from Maine and the remainder from Massachusetts.
By the end of the year, the plant will have surpassed its record generation for output for a year at more than 320 million kilowatt hours of power.
Although Schiller Station's biomass plant is no longer new, each month various groups from area colleges, national utilities and international organizations come to tour the plant and learn more about how it works.
"To the best of our knowledge, the project is still the largest coal- to-biomass conversion in the country," station manager Dick Despins said.
The 50 megawatt fluidized boiler permanently replaced a coal-burning boiler of the same size.
The plant has prevented more than 12,000 tons of sulfur dioxide emissions, as well at 1.9 million tons of coal-related carbon dioxide emissions.
Schiller remains the state's largest biomass plant, and wood buyer Rich Roy said there is no fear that the wood chip resource is going anywhere anytime soon.
The wood chips used are a by-product of traditional logging activities. ?Where the thin, tops of the trees used to be left in the woods to decompose, they are now hauled out with the saw logs, chipped and delivered to Newington.
Roy said it is a resource that otherwise would have stayed in the woods.
The price of wood chips has also been more stable than the price of other fuels in recent years.
"We believe in New Hampshire that we're continually adding to forestry . despite plants like Schiller using some of the products (out of the forest)," Despins said.
The biggest income for loggers remains saw logs.
"Loggers will tell you they are not going to sustain an industry selling wood chips," Despins said.
Logger Jeff Eames of Fort Mountain Trucking in Allenstown said the Schiller biomass plant has been a nice contribution to the mix of customers he works with.
He said the consistent income has allowed him to provide some health insurance to employees by providing an additional revenue mechanism.
The project is also good for landowners and biologists studying "new forest" growth, he said.
"For landowners . it produces a better quality forest, which produces better quality water," Eames said, which benefits large customers of his like Manchester Water Works.
On an annual basis, he sells about 35,000 tons of wood chips to Schiller.
"It's been a tremendous contribution for us to be able to have them as a customer," Eames said.
The renewable energy sources, primarily the Northern Wood Boiler, also provide a second revenue stream through the production of renewable energy certificates for PSNH, which have actual cash value to utilities that cannot create the required amount of renewable energy required under state law as part of their energy portfolio.
As a result of this additional revenue stream, the $75-million project to convert the coal boiler to biomass did not result in a negative impact to ratepayers' bills.
Despins said PSNH is always looking for ways to increase its renewable energy portfolio, and there have been conversations about transitioning the other two coal burners at Schiller Station to biomass, although there are no immediate plans to do so.