ECI's Power Plant Goes Green with Waste
08/12/2012
Daily Times - Online, The

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WESTOVER -- James Allen came to town when trouble started. That was nearly a quarter-century ago, and he's still at the Eastern Correctional Institution -- not to handle trouble, but rather, to usher in a new era of electricity generation that is a national example in renewable and green technologies.

ECI opened a quarter of a century ago with a power plant that burned wood chips as the institution's primary source of electricity, burning mostly loblolly pine trees. The biomass operation provides the only wood-burning plant at a state-operated facility in Maryland, supplying almost 75 percent of the institution's power needs.

The unique system is about to become even more watched on the national stage. Maryland Environmental Services, the company contracted the last two decades to operate the ECI power plant, is working to install a manure-to-fuel operation that when completed in mid-2013 will provide 25 percent of the prison's electrical power.

The wood-chip and manure-to-fuel operations will supply 100 percent of energy needs at the estimated 3,000-inmate prison in Westover.

"It has been all along, and still remains, a wood-burning power plant," said Allen, superintendent of the ECI co-generation power plant. "There were operational problems with the plant in the beginning. Sub systems were not performing as expected. A major problem was there was no ability to burn dirty wood. MES sent me as a consultant in 1988. In 1990, MES took over the operation and that's when I moved here into my house."

The wood-chip system was fixed, although its smaller than expected size canceled an earlier deal to provide excess electricity to the region's power grid, Allen said. "The primary objective was to sell power to Delmarva Power," he recalled. "But we realized it was too small; the prison was a 1,500-bed facility that quickly became a 3,000-bed facility. That doubled the service load. The prison couldn't honor a purchase agreement with the utility company."

What's important, say prison officials, is that alternative methods of powering the plant addresses environmental issues on the Eastern Shore where runoff from chicken manure is a contributor to pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay.

At the manure-to-fuel anaerobic digestion operation being built by the Eco Corp of Arlington, Va., tons upon tons of manure will be purchased from farmers and processed for electricity. The process also involves producing not only electricity, but an improved grade of fertilizer that can be purchased by farmers. The total process financially benefits farmers, creates jobs and helps reduce bay runoff. The ECI operation will become the only manure-to-fuel process at a state-run prison and perhaps the nation, said John G. Ingersoll, president and chief officer at Eco Corp.

"MES will buy power from our facility over 20 years," Ingersoll said. "We will pay farmers for feed stock, or manure, and we will produce fertilizer that is a better product, and at the same price."

Ingersoll expects construction of the $5.5 million plant on 1.5 acres to start by the end of 2012. The plant is expected to create at least three-to-four permanent jobs when completed by June 2013, he said.

The new process joins the current fuel operation that burns 160 daily tons of wood chips supplied by Eastern Shore Forest Products, which would equate to between 1,000 and 2,000 of the backyard variety of loblolly pines that are 60 feet tall and 12 inches in diameter.

"The state wants an efficient and viable green power source," Allen said. "We're taking a waste stream and using it in a positive manner. We have had our flat tires, but not too often. This is cutting-edge technology."