David Groves of Veolia Energy manages GRP plants in Colbert and Carnesville. He responded to the following questions from The Madison County Journal this week about the plant in Madison County. Here is that interview:
•Where is GRP in terms of its production flow right now? Is the Colbert plant operating at 100 percent? If not, when do you anticipate it being fully operational?
The Madison plant is currently off line but is expected to resume production Thursday. Start up and commissioning are in progress with various testing, repairs, improvements and equipment tuning being made. Our latest schedule has the plant executing a performance test in conjunction with the site general contractor and performing a required seven-day voltage test with Georgia Power next week. The Madison plant had its initial RATA (Relative Accuracy Test Audits) on the installed CEMS (Continuous Emissions Monitor System) for fluegas last week. This is the flue gas analyzer system that continuously (24/7) monitors the flue gases for to ensure compliance with the air permit. The GA EPD Air Branch witnessed this testing at the plant site last week. The testing appeared to go very well and all indications are that the plant CEMS equipment easily passed but the official report has not yet been received. The testing contractor utilized for the RATA was Air Hygiene Stack and Emissions Testing, Inc. Air Hygiene is accredited to ASTM D7036 (Standard Practice for Competence of Air Emission Testing bodies) standards.
•How many tons of railroad ties do you anticipate using annually?
At this time we do not know. We are not certain as to the amount of ties that will be available or that can be efficiently processed (chipped, metal removed, etc.)
•What percentage of your wood burnt annually will be railroad ties?
At this time we do not know (please see above)
•Could the plant operate efficiently off 100-percent untreated wood? Can you speak about the need to use this material and not exclusively untreated wood?
We believe that the recycling of rail ties into energy is a very good and environmentally friendly use of a material that otherwise would be going into landfills. Rail cross ties were added to the NHSM (Non-Hazardous Secondary Materials) under a final federal EPA rule in February, 2016. In this rule the EPA determined that creosote-borate and certain other railroad ties when combusted in a biomass unit (such as the Madison facility) are defined as non-waste fuels that can be safely burned. This is listed in 40 CFR section 241.4(a). Combusting used railroad crossties in a controlled environment with a state of the art emissions program is proven to be better for the environment than stacking the ties on the side of tracks or in landfills.
•Where do you get the ties and how often are they received?
Georgia Renewable Power has signed an agreement with a long-time fuel provider throughout the southeast that has had history of providing used railroad ties to over 14 boilers and power plants across the southeast. They will be received several times per week by rail and stored on the rail or in the facility.
•Where are railroad ties being stored on site? What steps does GRP take to make sure water from the ties doesn’t find its way into area groundwater?
A relatively small amount of preprocessed ties will be stored on site prior to processing. Filtering material is being installed to prevent any material from entering any site drainage. Once processed the chipped material will be stored with the wood fuel will it will be processed into energy within days of being processed. GRP’s crosstie provider has received a storm water permit from the EPD with measures taken to ensure processed ties are stored correctly. It is very unlikely that processed ties will be on the ground, as they are chipped and placed directly into the back of trucks.
•How are railroad ties processed before they are burned? Is the creosote removed prior to being used? If so, who does this and what is done with the creosote?
The ties that are received are 25 years old. They are being replaced by the railroads. Some of the ties are sold to retailers for residential uses such as landscape timbers. The remaining ties have their metal removed and are ground/chipped into fuel. The majority of the creosote has dissipated. For example, in the state of North Carolina each tie is considered 94 percent renewable with only six percent of the original creosote remaining. What little creosote remains is destroyed in the combustion process under the extreme heat that is generated.
•Can you explain how toxins are controlled in your burn process? What is done to limit harmful emissions and how are emissions tested? The EPD lists VOCs as increasing roughly four-fold after the modifications in the permit (which include the creosote railroad ties). Do you see this as accurate?
The fuel in the furnace is combusted under extreme heat which destroy most if not all contaminants. The plant has been permitted under the most recent EPA regulations, etc. and the facility by permit must follow section 112 of the Clean Air Act. This is commonly called HAPs or hazardous air pollutants. This is a list of toxic air pollutants that are known to cause cancer and have other serious health impacts and the plant is tightly regulated in regards to these within the GA EPD issued air permit.
•Residents in the area have said they smell smoke and they voice serious concerns over the effect on their health? What would you like to say to those who are concerned about how the plant might affect their health?
During start up and commissioning many systems etc. are being tuned and tested. We are not certain if this caused the smell that you describe but once commercial steady state operation is underway there should be no smells or other health-related concerns from the facility. The EPD regulates this per the CEMS system mentioned earlier.
•Can you address the noise from the plant? Residents around the facility say it’s a nuisance. Are there any plans for noise mitigation? Can you explain why sometimes it’s louder than other times?
During start up and commissioning the plant has been louder at times than it normally will be. This was particularly the case when the plant was performing steam blows and when placing the turbine online. We apologize for the inconvenience of this. A far field sound survey is going to be performed on the plant perimeter and if readings are unacceptable then noise remediation efforts will be made. Early indications show that the plant is compliant with all local, state and federal regulations. However, GRP understands the importance to the community and will address any single point of excessive noise if it is being created within the facility.
•Do you have anything else you would like Madison County residents to know about the GRP facility?
Georgia Renewable Power and Veolia Energy are proud of these facilities. Both the Madison and Franklin plants will be a source of clean, renewable energy for years to come while providing stable employment and very good jobs and careers to local residents. While we fully support other forms of renewable energy such as wind and solar, it is important to note that both of these plants will produce much-needed clean electric power continuously — even when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining. At the same time as we proceed with taking over these plants from start up we plan on being good neighbors who care about and contribute to the communities that have placed their trust in us. We plan on being a part of community events and being a valued partner with our neighbors and various community agencies etc. To help keep our neighbors informed once the plants are out of start up and commissioning we plan on holding community open houses at both facilities. In the meantime, we would like to thank our neighbors and surrounding communities for their patience as we bring these two highly efficient, environmentally compliant and world-class facilities online.