The Forest County Potawatomi Community recently constructed a $20 million renewable energy facility that will convert food waste into enough electricity to power about 1,500 homes.
The Forest County Potawatomi Community recently constructed a $20 million renewable energy facility that will convert food waste into enough electricity to power about 1,500 homes. The plant is powered by biogas created in two 1.3-million-gallon anaerobic digesters, according to Charles Opferman, owner’s representative of Greenfire Management Services LLC a subsidiary of the Potawatomi Business Development Corporation and a construction and property management business owned by FCPC. "Its feedstock comes from byproducts of local and regional food processing resources." Known as the FCPC Renewable Generation Digester, the power plant is funded by an initial Department of Energy grant for $2.6 million, a Section 1603 grant and Focus on Energy incentive — Wisconsin utilities’ statewide energy efficiency and renewable resource program.FCPC obtained $2.6 million in competitive funding through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Community Renewable Energy Deployment program that underwrote the initial development of this project, Opferman said.Preserving Tradition by Innovative MeansThe project is part of the Forest County Potawatomi Community’s commitment to environmental stewardship and a significant step towards its energy sovereignty, Opferman said. FCPC’s environmental mission statement was formalized on Nov. 20, 2008 as follows:The traditional values of the Forest County Potawatomi Community teach us to respect all living things, to take only what we need from mother earth, and to preserve the air, water, and soil for our children. Reflecting these values, we take leadership in creating a sustainable and healthy world. We resolve to reduce our own environmental impacts and to take steps to remedy the impacts of others. We encourage others to do the same. We also seek legislative and policy changes that protect the environment for all people, including generations to come."Our tribe’s culture and traditions establish a duty to help protect and enhance environmental resources," said Potawatomi Chairman Gus Frank in a statement. "This project not only helps us meet our energy and sustainability goals, but is also important to the region as it removes a waste stream while providing clean and renewable power."The feedstock — also called liquid organic waste or food waste — is converted into biogas. Using a proprietary anaerobic digestion process, the plant breaks down the feedstock into microorganisms in two 65-ft.-tall, 1.3-million-gallon digester tanks, producing 2.0 megawatts of "clean, green and renewable electricity," according to Eric H Ellison, project manager of Miron Construction Co., Inc. The system includes two 160,000-gal. (605,666 L) equalization tanks made of epoxy-coated carbon steel by CST, six GPI fiberglass influent tanks, Sharp mixers, Landia chopper pumps, Goulds centrifugal pumps, a Viola water membrane system, a Centrysis solids centrifuge, a Unison gas handling skid and a MV Technologies H2S scrubber, LMI chemical pumps, Bray valves, Endress and Hauser instrumentation, and a John Zink enclosed flare.The process creates methane, which is then burned in an engine that produces renewable electricity. That power will be sold to We Energies. Another part of the new facility is a plant that can recover heat from the biogas production process to supply hot water and heat."Elders, culture and traditions confirm a duty to protect and enhance environmental resources, both on and near the reservation and throughout the world," Opferman continued. "This project offsets a portion of the electricity that the FCPC utilizes, and does so with non-polluting renewable resources. Much of the feedstock that goes into this plant was slated for land application, which can lead to harmful runoff and where microbial degradation would release significant amounts of methane gas. Methane has 20 times the impact as a greenhouse gas, compared [with] carbon dioxide. This plant abates that methane release and offsets the need for coal-fired electricity generation. The effects of methymercury pollution from coal-fired electricity production and climate change from greenhouse gasses affect the Potawatomi, as well as everyone else. The southeast Wisconsin community benefits by having waste diverted from landfill and recovered into energy. Food processors and waste haulers benefit from a competitive disposal option, reducing trucking and other costs."Tribal attorney general Jeff Crawford, who is also the project leader, added: "The FCPC Renewable Generation Digester helps Wisconsin food and beverage manufacturers dispose of feedstock in an environmentally friendly manner that enhances and achieves their sustainability goals. The facility will allow all involved to be both environmentally and fiscally responsible, which makes our community a better place to live and work."Building a VisionThe plant is the culmination of a project proposed two years ago. "The engine generators were purchased prior to the end of 2011 to safe harbor for Section 1603," Opferman said. "Getting zoning, land division, financing, air permits, water permits, and [a] Power Purchase Agreement were the biggest challenges in getting the project started."The project was built on 90 feet of fill in a former tamarack swamp, which eventually became a dump site. Located at the edge of flood fringe, where the water table is 5 feet below grade at river/lake level, there were some challenges."The majority of the challenges were identified early and were addressed as planned," Opferman said. "Environmental permitting issues have historically been the most lengthy to resolve in Wisconsin. Those issues were planned for."Ellison said they also tried to plan for the unknown. "The implementation of some of the finest technology and equipment available required a vigilant commissioning and start up, with many iterations to get the individual pieces to perform as one concerted group." In the end, he said, they achieved "a great product."Ground was broken in July 2012 and work on the site started at the beginning of October the same year.As reported in Indian Country Today, the project attracted companies from all over the state. In addition to the consulting services provided by Greenfire Management Services LLC, Miron Construction Co. Inc. served as the design builder, overseeing the project management and general contracting services. "They self-performed concrete, masonry, steel erection and carpentry on the project," Opferman said.Process Engineering Design was performed by Violia Water Solutions & Technologies of Pennsauken, N.J. Symbiont Science, Engineering and Construction, Inc. did most of the plant design. Titus Energy performed considerable pre-development work and provided other consulting services and Rockwell Automation installed motor controls. Uihlien Electric and Grunau Mechanical handled the electrical and process piping, respectively. The two internal combustion biogas engines were manufactured by General Electric in its Waukesha plant — the first U.S. deployment of this engine model for use in continuous generation. Opferman said that Natural Systems Utilities LLC is the operator.At peak, there were 58 construction workers on site, Ellison estimated: "earthwork, asphalt pavers, site utility, masons, electricians, process piping, roofers, tank installers, sheet metal workers and plumbers."Inland Power Group supplied two GE Waukesha APG1000 Enginator Gensets, Ellison said. "The heat recovery package included a Cain exhaust heat recovery unit, while the switchgear was provided by GE Waukesha."Materials used for the project include driven steel piling concrete to bear on existing sediment and fill site, concrete-grade beams, split-face masonry bearing walls, steel joists with metal decking and a TPO (thermoplastic-polyolefin) roof.DeliveryThe plant began delivering electricity to the grid in October 2013. The plant has generated quite amount of interest in the region, Opferman said. "Groups interested and touring include the State Energy Office, other tribes, university classes, local and statewide environmental CBOs focused on energy, professional organizations focused on energy, design, sustainability and facility management." The project is unique as a merchant facility. Development of the plant was mission-driven. "FCPC built an industrial waste water plant so it could generate power," Obferman said. "Other anaerobic digesters in the country are built to address regulatory and waste disposal issues."The plant is part of a $200 million initiative the Potawatomi Tribe is undertaking in Milwaukee, which includes a $36 million data center in the city’s historic Concordia neighborhood and a $50 million, 381-room hotel being built next to the Potawatomi Bingo Casino, scheduled to open in summer 2014.