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South Boston Energy turns on the juice

South Boston News / September 12, 2013
The South Boston Energy wood-fired power plant achieved a milestone yesterday — it produced its first burst of power.

The plant generated just enough juice to show it will properly synchronize with the energy grid once operations ramp up in full in the next few weeks.

“It [was] the first time the grid is saying ‘hello, South Boston Energy, we see you,’” explained Anand Gangadharam, president of Michigan-based NOVI Energy, which developed the plant for Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative (NOVEC).

Officials with both companies were on hand in South Boston yesterday to witness the brief start-up of the biomass plant, which is designed to generate up to 49.9 megawatts of electricity for NOVEC’s 150,000 customers in Fairfax, Prince William, Loudoun and surrounding communities.

The $180 million project is fully staffed with a 26-person team that will now make final preparations for commercial start-up with the synchronization process completed.

Gangadharam described the sync test as a “fairly significant event in the life cycle of developing a power project.”

Only a nominal amount of electricity was produced yesterday, Gangadharam continued, but “it’s not about how much power [we] put out, but how to synchronize with the grid.

“It went extremely well today,” he said. “We’re extremely pleased with how things went and we’re looking forward to commercial operation shortly.”

Fred Mistal, NOVEC’s consultant in South Boston, outlined the next steps for the plant: minor adjustments to the controls, the replacement of a screen with the main turbine stop value, and finishing touches to a pollution control module.

The project then will come on-line and, according to company projections, produce enough power to light up 16,000 homes.

While the major part of the plant’s economic impact — the temporary construction employment — has faded away, South Boston Energy will continue to pay dividends for Halifax County, said Gangadharam. In addition to the more than two dozen permanent jobs, the project will provide a market for wood wastes and boost the region’s timber economy.

Gangadharam estimated there are “30 to 40 different teams” harvesting wood chips and waste slash as fuel stock for the plant. At times of peak demand, there will be some 70 trucks rolling into the Plywood Drive location to dump off wood to use as fuel.

“This is all part of a grand cycle that will add employment in the community,” said Gangadharam. South Boston “should be very proud and happy to have a very successful utility owning this facility.”

Separately, NOVI said this week that loud noises associated with the testing process — caused by steam venting from the plant — are at an end. With proof that the plant will work as intended, the steam will be channeled into turbines for power generation.

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Since we have to breathe all that smoke from another power plant in this area can we get some discounted juice?


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