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Joyce Endee

5% of Burgess Biopower project is done

Concrete footings for new cooling towers and a sound barrier have been poured at the Burgess Biopower facility, dominated by the 320-foot-high boiler stack on the East Side of the Androscoggin River in Berlin. It is slated to begin generating electricity from clean wood chips late in 2013. Photo by Edith Tucker. (click for larger version)
February 15, 2012
BERLIN — About five percent of the Burgess Biopower-Berlin Station project has been completed, explained Paul Smith, project manager for Babcock & Wilcox Construction Company, Inc. (BWCC), in a Friday afternoon phone call. BWCC is the Babcock & Wilcox Company that in Oct. 2011 was awarded the Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) contract with the private equity firm, Cate Street Capital (CSC) of Portsmouth.

This major contract is said to be worth more than $186 million. A separate six-year contract in the $19 million range was awarded to Delta Power Services, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of the B & W Company, to provide operations and maintenance (O&M) services for the plant after its operational.

Work to convert the former pulp mill's existing black liquor recovery boiler into a bubbling fluidized bed (BFB) boiler is already underway. Eighty-eight workers were on site on Thursday afternoon, a drop from the 112 workers on site in December. Less work was scheduled in the early months of the year, since ordinarily harsh weather conditions preclude a lot of outdoor work. The majority of those working on site live within driving distance, Smith said.

The old pulp dryer warehouse is available for inside disassembly and assembly work and two large worker break rooms, that serve as lunchrooms and group meetings for safety instruction and the like, have been created using sheets of wood.

The boiler was originally manufactured by B & W in 1966 and refurbished in 1993. Smith, now of Reno, Nevada, lived in a condo on Cates Hill in the early 90s and worked for B & W on that project. Converting an existing boiler, rather than building a brand-new one, saved between 12 to 18 months of costly construction.

Boilermakers and concrete workers now on site were hired at local union halls, Smith explained. Some workers have also been hired directly by BWCC, he said, with most working inside the massive structure that houses the boiler and base of the boiler stack that rises 320 feet above finished grade.

Giant-sized parts are already on hand in the laydown yard waiting to be installed. A cylindrical sand silo, for example, lies on its side awaiting installation. Wood chips and other low-grade clean wood fuels will be burned in a suspension of hot bed materials, primarily super-heated fine-particle sand that will dry and ignite even hard-to-burn materials. The sand will become so hot that is actually bubbles.

Excavation work has begun at the site of the new turbine building, and some concrete footings for the new cooling towers have been poured. A newly poured 35-foot-tall concrete sound barrier was still drying on Thursday afternoon, heated by thick black electric construction blankets.

Later in the year, the large black crane now being used to pick panels of steel from the sides of the boiler building will be joined by another crane that will be twice as tall.

Large brown custom-made air ducts as well as tubing and lancers are also stored in the laydown yard, which is guarded 24/7.

The facility's boiler system is designed to efficiently convert water to superheated, high-pressure steam, which in turn will spin turbines to generate electricity. The anticipated date at which power will be sent out onto the grid is late 2013.

Burgess BioPower has a 20-year agreement to sell its power to Public Service Company of New Hampshire (PSNH). The biomass plant will burn some 750,000 tons of low-grade wood a year, supporting several hundred jobs for foresters, loggers, chippers and truckers and their suppliers. Burgess BioPower is expected to inject approximately $25 million annually into the North Country economy, and 40 direct jobs will be created on site.

Industrial activity at this East Side location, now a brownfield site, dates back to the mid-1800s when the Brown Company built the first pulp and paper mill, and it has been used solely for pulp and paper manufacturing over the past 150 years. The project was carefully laid out to allow space for other businesses, with potential access to thermal energy from the biomass boiler. And natural gas pipeline could also be brought into the site as was done over the summer at the Gorham Paper and Tissue mill.

Heaps of rubble, much of it chunks of concrete, dot the area that will become wood yards in the future.

Those who once worked at the Burgess pulp mill enjoy watching the progress being made to return the site to industrial productivity.

Retiree Ray Michaud often parks on Community Street to look at the activity. Both his father and his grandfather worked 40-plus years at the mill and he worked there off and on for 16 years. Michaud said proudly, "My family's connected to this place."

Salmon Press
Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
Garnett HIll
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