Georgia utility to build biomass-fueled power plants

18 09 2008

Dave Williams | Atlanta Business Chronicle

Oglethorpe Power Corp. will invest up to $1 billion building two power plants fueled by biomass, the Tucker-based utility announced Thursday.

The two 100-megawatt plants, powered by woody biomass from South Georgia’s vast forests, are due to begin production in 2014 and 2015. The company also may decide to build a third facility, which also would go online in seven years.

“With our abundant biomass resources, Georgia has the unique opportunity to expand our use of alternative energy, grow our economy and transform the way we provide energy to our citizens,” said Gov. Sonny Perdue, who unveiled Oglethorpe’s plans during his annual Governor’s Environmental Address hosted by Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful in Duluth.

“Oglethorpe Power’s pioneering investment in alternative energy is consistent with our goal to grow, convert and use biomass energy to power our homes and businesses.”

Utilities across the country are stepping up their commitment to less-polluting renewable sources of energy, both in response to public demand and because of market conditions. The costs of coal and natural gas, the most widely used fuels for producing electricity, have been on the rise, while no nuclear plants have built in the U.S. for decades.

The state Public Service Commission will hold public hearings in November on plans by Georgia Power Co. for two new nuclear power generating units at Plant Vogtle near Waynesboro, Ga.

The two Oglethorpe biomass plants will represent a significant increase in Georgia’s biomass-fueled generating capacity. The plants will provide electricity to the utility’s 38 member cooperatives across the state, which serve nearly half of the Georgia population.

“We’re pleased to find an environmentally friendly way to help meet some of our members’ growing demand for electricity,” Oglethorpe president and CEO Tom Smith said.

Fuel for the plants will consist of a woody biomass mixture, including chipped pulpwood and wood waste left over in sawmills and in forests after clearing. The plants also will be designed for co-firing of other types of biomass, such as pecan hulls and peanut shells.

Georgia Irrigation in Review

18 09 2008

By Harrison, Kerry

Irrigation has allowed Georgia farmers to get the most out of their land for the past three decades, and Georgia engineers have had a major impact on keeping farmers informed. In the 1970s …

Irrigation usage exploded due to high corn, soybean, and wheat prices. Areas of southwest Georgia, too sandy for dryland farming, were cleared and put into row crops and vegetable production using center pivots. In the Coastal Plain region, farmers chose travelers or center pivots. No government intervention, incentives, subsidies, or construction was used to fuel Georgia’s irrigation growth. Farmers made these business decisions, like most in Georgia, with minimal state or county interference.

At the time, it seemed Georgia’s water supply was inexhaustible. The Floridian aquifer would never run short. This mostly untapped reservoir was one of the largest in the United States, and it was recharged annually. No permits were required for either wells or ponds. No reporting was required for irrigation or other water use. No permitting was required for wells used by municipalities and industries until 1972.

Regulatory environment changes in the 1980s

When the Georgia groundwater permitting legislation passed in the early 1970s, agricultural withdrawals-like individual homeowners- were exempted. Less than 81,000 hectares (200,000 acres) were irrigated at the time. The systems were considered “too spread out” and too few to be of concern. By the early 1980s, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and its Environmental Protection Division (EPD), which control permits and reporting, surmised that irrigation had grown to more than 405,000 hectares (1,000,000 acres) and was quickly becoming a major user of water. They started pushing for tighter controls.

In 1988, withdrawals capable of pumping more than 379,000 L/day (100,000 gal/day) for agricultural purposes were brought into the permit system. If an irrigation system required a 4,500 L/min (1,200 gpm) pumping rate and that capacity pump was installed-that is what was permitted. Although the regulators made varying assumptions about actual irrigation application per permitted acre, farmers could technically use that pump 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Only economics held them in check. No reporting was required after the permit was issued. No conservation plan and no drought emergency provisions were needed. No fees were required. The regulatory agency was too understaffed at that time to police the rules. By the end of the grandfather period in 1991, sight unseen, 12,000 permits were issued for over 405,000 hectares (1,000,000 acres) of irrigation plus other uses.

Farmers learn best from neighbors

When a farmer saw a neighbor putting up a pivot and succeeding, he wanted one, too. Skills improved. Farmers who installed systems in the 1970s learned one could not take equipment and scheduling straight from the West and make it work in the Southeast. Most Georgia soils held too little water. Water supplies and irrigation had to be large and applications frequent enough to completely replace crop use every three to four days, and do that continuously for 20 to 30 days between drought-spaced rainfalls. Over time, farmers learned this as well and put in suitable systems or adapted their rotations and crop management. The energy crunch prompted farmers to convert to low-pressure systems.

In a panic: water war

The end of the 1990s ushered in a new dimension to irrigation in Georgia: fear!

Read on here.

Sewage spill near Loganville requires more monitoring

18 09 2008


County work crews were called out Thursday night to repair a sewer line near Loganville. A sewage spill developed when power failed at the Brushy Fork pump station. The line was repaired within an hour of the alert, but some 6,250 gallons spilled.

By state standards, it was a minor spill — one of 18 minor spills the Gwinnett Department of Water Resources has dealt with this year. But it happened near a tributary of Big Haynes Creek, and the area will require monitoring, said Jeff Boss director of field operations for the department.“The power went out,” Boss said. “When that happens, typically, the backup generators kick on and back up until power comes back on at the station.”

In this case, he said, the pump station was in the process of being replaced with a gravity system, and the contractor failed to monitor the system to guarantee the backup system worked properly, Boss said.

Shanda Perugini, DWR administrative assistant, said crews — usually consisting of three persons — are on call for reports of sewer line breaks 24 hours a day. The crew may also call for additional workers, depending on the extent of the problem.

“We have an outside contractor for major catastrophes,” Boss said. “If a 48-inch pipe were to break, a 72-inch pipe were to break, we have an on-call contractor we could call on for that. But, 99 percent of repairs are done in-house.”

Read on here.