UW official: Walker rejection of biomass project would mean loss of jobs and rail upgrade

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

From an article by James Briggs in The Daily Reporter:

A University of Wisconsin official warns that an initiative of Gov.-elect Scott Walker could prevent rail upgrades and cost jobs.

If that sounds familiar, there‘s good reason. High-speed rail advocates have said Walker’s plan to stop efforts toward a Madison-to-Milwaukee line would kill as many as 9,570 jobs (a Sierra Club estimate).

Walker has said only 55 permanent jobs would be eliminated.

In this case, though, Alan Fish, UW-Madison’s associate vice chancellor for facilities, isn’t talking about high-speed rail. Fish on Monday said if Walker removes a biomass boiler from plans for the Charter Street Heating Plant conversion on the UW-Madison campus, it would mean fewer jobs.

Walker hinted at the move last week in a letter to Department of Administration Secretary Daniel Schooff, but has neither clarified nor confirmed his intentions. A Walker spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

“In order to have a biomass boiler constructed on the site, we’re going to have to have both a fuel storage capacity and some increases in the rail lines, so we can park rail cars right next to the plant,” Fish said. “That would mean building another rail bridge over Park Street and the East Campus Mall so we can make sure freight traffic can still go through while we’re parking cars and unloading.”

The rail work is included in the $251 million conversion project that is under way and set to be completed in 2013. Because the project is phased, though, Fish said it would not be difficult to leave out the biomass boiler. Such a decision would downsize the project, he said.

“If we go to (only) natural gas, we’re going to concentrate all the capital investment in the plant and expansion of the plant,” Fish said. “Fuel handling would come out, the rail work would come out and the biomass boiler and air pollution control is going to come out.”


Ed Blume said...

From Peter Taglia, Chief Scientist for Clean Wisconsin:

The project economics were included in the 2009 Charter Street BACT Compliance Needs Alternative Analysis. The lifecycle cost differential between the natural gas versus biomass options varied depending on the spread between the costs of the two fuels over time (through 2033). The analysis isn’t fully complete because the comparison only looked at natural gas through 2022 then biomass versus biomass installed right away. In any case, forgoing the biomass resulted in a lifecycle cost of $769 million if there is no price spread between natural gas and biomass. The biomass lifecycle cost was $807 under this scenario (which I would argue is worth the environmental and economic benefits). But, if the price spread changes (i.e., biomass is cheaper than natural gas), the biomass becomes cheaper on a lifecycle basis, although again by only a few 10’s of millions for a $700 plus million dollar lifecycle cost to heat and provide power to the campus.

Note that these evaluations were based on a circulating fluidized bed boiler (CFB) for biomass. The final design used a vibra-grate stoker which cost less, has slightly lower efficiency, but greater ability to burn high chloride residues and grasses. I don’t know how the changes affected the economics other than the stoker was cheaper than the CFB.


The magnitude of the total economic benefits of the biomass portion of Charter Street over natural gas is substantial and numerous studies in Wisconsin have shown the additional jobs and economic benefits of substituting locally sourced fuel for imported fossil fuels. A recent economic analysis provided in testimony to the Public Service Commission by the Wisconsin Paper Council reviewed the economic benefits of producing renewable diesel fuel from wood waste at the proposed Flambeau River Biofuels facility: purchasing $16 million per year of local woody biomass would result in 131 direct jobs in forestry and 28 direct jobs at the renewable fuel refinery, plus an additional 46 indirect and induced jobs in forestry and an additional 193 indirect and induced jobs at the facility (IMPLAN Economic Model Testimony by Terry Mace, Exhibit 303, Wisconsin PSC Docket No. 4220-CE-169).

Also, the USDA Report on needing to prove out biomass supply systems with projects like Charter Street should be of particular importance to the UW given that we have a $125 million plus grant to develop cellulosic fuels at the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center.