- Associated Press - Monday, August 25, 2014

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. (AP) — When Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Biomass Steam Plant opened in 2012, it was supposed to save the lab money while also cutting pollution. But the plant had to be shut down after just a year and a half when a systems check found that some parts were already failing.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports (https://bit.ly/1p8YcU7) Johnson Controls handled the financing and construction of the $60 million plant that turned wood chips to a gas used to fuel a boiler. Under a special contract, the company was to be paid from the lab’s energy cost savings, originally estimated to reach $260 million over two decades.

Johnny Moore is the Department of Energy’s site manager at the laboratory. He said that after the biomass plant was shut down, Johnson Controls brought in a temporary boiler to replace it. But that boiler and other backup systems at the lab don’t use biomass as fuel and don’t meet the terms of the Energy Savings Performance Contract.

Moore said DOE is in discussions with Johnson Controls about a long-term solution, but he would not go into details.

Johnson Controls spokeswoman Monica Zimmer declined to comment.

DOE entered into the contract with Johnson Controls in 2007. In addition to the Biomass Steam Plant, Johnson Controls was to conduct a number of other projects that together were designed to cut the lab’s fossil fuel consumption by 70 percent.

Moore said Johnson Controls currently is not being paid for savings associated with the steam plant, which was designed by Nexterra, because the company is not meeting the terms of the contract. The company is being paid for other successful projects that are part of the performance contract, though.

A statement from DOE about the biomass plant cites “problems with the materials of construction.” Moore said that the wood-burning operations created weak organic acids that caused thinning in some of the key vessels and transfer lines.

Moore said DOE looked closely at the technologies to be used before approving the biomass plan. He said similar systems have been used successfully, particularly in Canada.

An August 2013 audit by the Energy Department’s Office of Inspector General was critical of the plant’s “planning and operational costs.” The project was supposed to pay for itself within 15 years, but the audit found it might incur as much as $67 million in unnecessary costs over its lifetime.

Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Poneman, who was in Oak Ridge recently, said of the biomass plant, “When you do things that are innovative, it entails risk. We’re going to keep with it. Biomass is a huge priority.”


Information from: Knoxville News Sentinel, https://www.knoxnews.com

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