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Canandaigua VA to get $15 million biomass system

Rochester Business Journal
September 10, 2010

Under a $15 million contract, the Canandaigua VA Medical Center will be outfitted next year with the organization’s first biomass steam-generation system to produce heat and power.

The contract, between Department of Veterans Affairs and Maryland-based Lockheed Martin Corp. and Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., will reduce energy costs for the Canandaigua VA by generating onsite power through renewable resources.

The automated system uses biomass byproducts such as wood chips, commonly used for landscaping, and bark salvaged from local lumber yards and logging operations to generate steam-powered energy.

The system will be installed in its own building at a remote location on the Canandaigua campus constructed in the same architectural style as the existing buildings there, VA officials said. It is intended to supplement three existing boilers by providing 60 percent to 70 percent of its energy requirements.

Thermally, the system will provide the most benefit, supplying 99 percent of the campus’s heat requirements. It is expected to reduce costs from $1.7 million, which the campus spent on natural gas last year, to $600,000 to $700,000 to be spent on wood chips.

The amount of electricity the system provides will fluctuate from one-third of total consumption to 12 percent to 15 percent, depending on the season.

The project is funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Construction is slated to start next spring; the system is expected to go online by spring 2012.

In Upstate NY, there are roughly a half-dozen large-scale biomass systems, used mainly in hospitals and college settings, said Steven Bolewski, the VA’s network energy manager in Syracuse.

The VA evaluated six types of renewable energy systems, he said, over the 18 months.

“We wanted the best because of the neighbors and the type of site environment. We’re not an industrial site. We’re a hospital. So, if we were going to do this it was going to be a demonstration project as much as being an economic driver for us,” he said.

The project, he said, uses the best available technology, which costs a little more than strictly necessary, but will provide significant savings over the long term.

“It’s much more environmentally friendly than doing it on the cheap,” Bolewski said. “But because we’re going to be around, we can work with longer pay back periods.”

The system is the first in the VA network, but other locations such as Bath are being evaluated, he said. Plans are underway to construct similar systems at centers in Portland, Maine, and Baltimore.

For the Canandaigua project, Lockheed Martin will build, install and test the equipment and train the VA on how to maintain the biomass system. Whiting Turner will provide onsite construction leadership and work with the VA to integrate it.

The configuration, though smaller in scale, will be based on Lockheed Martin’s system in Owego in the Southern Tier. It was installed in 2008. By switching from fuel oil to wood chips, that plant reduced its heating and cooling bills by half.

“It’s reduced our carbon footprint by about a quarter, or about 8,000 metric tons,” said Jeffrey Brown, a Lockheed Martin Mission Systems & Sensors spokesman.

The environmental impact of these systems, he said, is minimal.

It is not like burning wood, Bolewski said. The wood is cooked in a low oxygen environment. The woodchips are gasified and the gas is burned. The emissions, or particulate, then are collected in a series of cylinders. Whatever particulate that remains then goes through an electrostatic precipitator.

“Essentially it’s a series of plates that are highly electrically charged; the dust essentially sticks to it as it goes by, and what we do every so often is shut it off, shake it and the dust falls down,” Bolewski explained.

(c) 2010 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail

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