VIPs Witness Test Burn at Ottumwa Generating Station

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CHILLICOTHE, IOWA – Dec. 8, 2003—Community and government advocates for renewable energy gathered to observe an interim switchgrass test burn being conducted by the Chariton Valley Biomass Project team at the Ottumwa Generating Station (OGS) in Chillicothe, Iowa at 9 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 8.

The Chariton Valley Biomass Project is a cooperative effort between Alliant Energy, Chariton Valley Resource Conservation and Development and the U.S. Department of Energy. It is an initiative to develop switchgrass, and other grasses grown in southern Iowa, as a supplemental fuel source for coal-fired power plants.

“Prudent use of natural resources and protecting the environment are critical to preserving Iowa for future generations,” says Kim Zuhlke, vice president of new energy resources at Alliant Energy. “This project exemplifies the diligent efforts underway to diversify generating capacity while minimizing impact on the environment.”

The interim test burn began on Monday, Dec. 1 and will continue for two weeks. It is the second of three planned testing milestones for the Biomass Project. Throughout the duration of this test, 1,500 tons of locally-grown switchgrass will be co-fired with coal at OGS to produce electricity.

The Biomass Project’s initial test burn took place in December 2000. It was an opportunity to validate that the concept of switchgrass as a supplemental fuel source worked and establish next steps.

According to Greg Hudson, senior projects engineer at Alliant Energy—operator and part owner of the Ottumwa Generating Station, the goal of this test burn is twofold. “First, we’re acquiring the certified emissions data necessary to obtain an environmental permit from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to conduct a long-term test burn of more than 25,000 tons of switchgrass in 2004-05,” explains Hudson.

“We’re also collecting and analyzing fly ash samples—a byproduct of burning coal—that have been enhanced by co-firing with switchgrass,” adds Hudson. “Because co-firing coal with switchgrass slightly changes the ash composition, testing must be done to ensure its continued acceptance by the Department of Transportation (DOT), the primary recipient of fly ash that uses it as a strengthening agent in concrete for roads.”

DOT acceptance of switchgrass-enhanced fly ash is crucial for the commercial success of the Biomass Project. At commercialization, the project could require as much as 200,000 tons of biomass from 50,000 acres and involve as many as 500 farmers. Project partners propose to co-fire biomass with coal to generate a sustained supply of 35 megawatts of biomass-derived electric power at the Ottumwa Generating Station.

“The impacts of the Biomass Project’s success would be many,” says John Sellers, president of Prairie Lands Bio-Products—a coalition of switchgrass growers. “We’d be positioned for rural economic development and would likely experience improved standards of living in southern Iowa. Additional benefits would include the security of using a domestic fuel for energy production, and enhanced quality of air, water and soil by utilizing switchgrass as a crop for marginal cropland.”

Jenna Arnold, Chariton Valley Biomass Project coordinator, says the Biomass Project is dependent upon the dedication of many key individuals, including legislators and their staff. “These individuals are instrumental in the project advancing and reaching economic success,” explains Arnold. “We’re grateful to Senator Charles Grassley for his continued work to support the project. The language he proposed for adoption by the Senate in the Energy Bill currently being debated would make the project eligible for the production tax credit, and move the project much closer to becoming commercially viable.”

“Senator Tom Harkin has also been instrumental in moving the Chariton Valley Biomass Project toward fruition, with his ongoing efforts to help the project obtain much-needed funding,” concludes Arnold.

The Ottumwa Generating Station is one of the Midwest’s largest electricity-producing power plants. The plant is designed to produce up to 725 megawatts of electricity—enough to supply approximately 145,000 homes. Owned jointly by MidAmerican Energy and Alliant Energy, OGS began operation in 1981 and employs approximately 70 people.