ReEnergy's Black River

Retrofitted For Biomass


Purchased by ReEnergy Holdings, LLC in December 2011, the company’s newest venture, its Black River facility, is the third in New York State for ReEnergy Holdings, which owns or operates nine facilities in six states with a combined installed capacity of 325 MW.

Inside the Fort Drum U.S. Army post near Watertown, NY, the Black River facility has a gross output of 60 MW and a net output of 54 MW, making Black River ReEnergy Holdings’ largest facility.

But before Black River could come online, ReEnergy Holdings had to retrofit the former coal-fired power plant. Tony Marciniak, Black River’s Facility Manager, estimates that it took well under a year once the retrofit began to bring Black River to commercial production.

ReEnergy was committed to bringing the idle coal firing facility to a complete conversion, aware of the economic impact it would have on the state. ReEnergy Holdings Chief Commercial Officer Tom Beck says, “New York State is a great place to do business. Our headquarters are here and we like operating here.”

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) selected the Black River facility to sell renewable energy credits (RECs) to NYSERDA under New York’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard.

The Standard, administered by NYSERDA, is responsible for ensuring that 30% of New York’s electricity comes from renewable sources by 2015. A 10-year contract with NYSERDA and the possibility of working with the Army spurred ReEnergy Holdings to make the acquisition and complete the conversion as quickly as possible. Beck says, “The REC market is a recognized market in New York State and we’re happy to be a part of that.”

“We started in August 2012 and achieved commercial operation status by the end of May this year. It was a very aggressive, fast track type project,” Marciniak explains. Cianbro Corp. was the main contractor for the entire project, though ReEnergy contributed some of its own people on site during the retrofit.


“One of the biggest successes of the project has been the time frame,” Marciniak says. “From the start of the retrofit to commercial operation, for a project of this magnitude, just a little over eight months, that’s a monumental accomplishment.”

ReEnergy Holdings invested more than $34 million in the retrofit, which created an average of 178 daily on-site construction jobs, 33 full-time jobs at the facility and about 145 jobs in the forest providing the fuel wood needed. The company looked at equipment and technologies throughout the facility and made adjustments and improvements as needed, though one of the major elements of the retrofit was the entire fuel handling system, which was built essentially from scratch.

Everything is new from the scales to the dumpers to the conveyor that feeds into the boiler building. Marciniak explains that while the fuel handling system was a major element of the project, the most challenging was tuning the boilers for this type of fuel, and getting the controls and air systems to function properly. Coal is a very different type of raw material to burn, Marciniak explains with a laugh.

Company Pride

As Beck says, “We might not always be selling our power at the highest rate, but as long as we can make a good return we’re happy. We’re a stable outlet for the wood that used to just be a waste.”

Generally, Black River receives biomass from a 50-mile radius, plus construction and demolition materials from as far as Massachusetts and New York City, with deliveries on a set schedule. Black River takes a small amount of tire-derived fuel (TDF) that is bought locally. “It’s a better use for it than sitting in a landfill,” Marciniak says. He estimates that the facility will receive 600,000 tons of raw material annually.

To ensure fuel wood is always available, ReEnergy operates an innovative raw material procurement program. Local loggers within the mill’s procurement radius are able to secure long-term contracts with ReEnergy Holdings. ReEnergy then purchases chipping equipment to lease to the logger, while the logger pays off the equipment off over the period of the contract. This ensures a stable supplier base. A consistent mix of softwood and hardwood, at a rate of about 80-100 loads, comes into the facility each day. So far, ReEnergy Black River has 14 loggers operating under these contracts.

Fuel Flow

Since the Black River facility is on the Army post, certain guidelines and regulations must be followed. Marciniak notes that certain challenges do present themselves, like truck deliveries, which must be done when physical training isn’t occurring. The facility also must pay attention to access control, noise, fugitive dust and the cooling tower plume.

Luckily, Marciniak is a product of the “Nuclear Navy,” as he calls it, giving him experience not only in the armed forces but also in the power generating side, having worked in power plants most of his professional life. He’s able to handle the Army’s regulations with ease.

Incoming raw material is brought into the facility, processed and weighed using Avery Weightronics scales. Black River’s spec for wood chips is plus or minus 3 in., according to Marciniak. (TDF is metered in using a separate system than the biofuels.)

Trucks are unloaded using one of two Phelps Industries dumpers. From the dumpers, material is conveyed using Process Barron conveyors to a fuel out pile, tended by Caterpillar bulldozers and pay loaders. West Salem Machinery supplied both the wood hog and disc screenin the fuel yard. Marciniak notes that truck turnaround, from gate in to gate out, is an average of 20 minutes, including passing the Fairbanks outbound scales.

From the out pile, fuel is conveyed up to the boiler building. It’s here, inside the boiler building, that ReEnergy had the most challenges with the retrofit. Three Pyropower circulating fluidized bed boilers (CFB) are fed from modified coal silos. Marciniak explains that by cutting off the conical bottom of the silos and installing a circulatory screw reclaimer from Steam and Control Systems at the bottom of each, the silos became functional for biomass handling. The reclaimers meter flow of biomass fuel into the boilers.


By making these modifications, ReEnergy was able to use the original Pyropower boilers. The three boilers produce steam at a rate of 1,500 PSI and an average temperature of 950° F for a Dresser steam turbine. Marciniak is very pleased with the steam turbine, finding it extremely reliable.

Located inside the boiler building, the control room was another big part of the retrofit, requiring a $1.5 million digital control upgrade. Foxboro supplied the state of the art system that allows a single operator to monitor all the equipment in the facility as well as electrical output and boiler operations.

Replacing the 2,000 HP induction drive fans was another key to the retrofit inside the boiler buildings. Using Howden ID fans and ABB ID fan variable frequency drives that deliver a higher rate of suction, ReEnergy had to structurally strengthen the baghouse. “We made major modifications to the mechanical dust collectors,” Marciniak explains, “so they could accommodate the operation of the fans.”

Just like the boiler building, the cooling tower received a lot of attention during the retrofit. Cooling Tower Depot supplied the tower itself, and the cooling tower pumps were supplied by Trask-Decrow. During the retrofit, ReEnergy was able to reduce the amount of water withdrawn from the nearby Black River from about 30,000 gallons per minute (GPM) to less than 5,000 GPM using pumps supplied by Atlantic Pump & Engineering. In addition, the thermal plume going back into the river is about 10% of what it used to be. The facility has also greatly reduced limestone usage.

In terms of maintenance, Marciniak says the facility rarely shuts down. “With three boilers it’s a very rare situation that the plant has to completely stop production,” he says, but there are annual outage in the fall and spring that suspend production to allow for major maintenance.

The facility operates on 12-hour shifts, with each having its own dedicated technician to handle problems that might spring up. Maintenance Manager Peter Lister says the staff can handle most issues within a few hours. Marciniak agrees, saying the facility has been fortunate so far, with no major maintenance issues.

Safety Procedures

For Marciniak, safety isn’t just a priority at the facility but it’s the number one daily concern. Since ReEnergy took over the facility there have been no major accidents, and the goal is to keep it that way.

“There is absolutely nothing we do here without making safety our first consideration,” Marciniak explains, and he receives quite a bit of corporate support, “It’s a hallmark of ReEnergy.”

The facility uses the following programs to ensure the safety of all on-site: lock out/tag out, confined space entry procedure, protective equipment and safety literature.

“Safety is number one,” Marciniak says, “but number two—a close number two—is environmental impact. Compliance is important, so we are constantly making sure we are following all state rules and regulations, and Fort Drum’s regulations.”

After several months of effort, ReEnergy’s Black River facility is the first facility owned by a U.S. company dedicated to energy production that has Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) certification. Marciniak credits the ReEnergy procurement team, which visits the facility frequently but is headquartered elsewhere, with having the practices in place to help get the SFI certification.

ReEnergy Holdings Director of Communications and Governmental Affairs Sarah Boggess says, “Our procurement practices were already in line with the SFI model, but it’s important for the general public and regulators to have that guarantee.” Marciniak echoes Boggess, “It’s an internationally recognized seal of approval.”

ReEnergy wasn’t just concerned with the environmental impact on the forest. It also wanted to be as eco-conscious as possible at the facility as well. Recently, ReEnergy’s Black River facility received the Empire State Forest Products Assn.’s Stewardship Award for innovation in stimulating markets and doing it in a sustainable way. Beck says the award was a tremendous honor, and the ceremony was a fun night, as one of Black River’s suppliers received the association’s Logger of the Year Award.