NACOGDOCHES COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - Years of planning, construction and collection of a pile of wood chips three stories high led up to today's milestone at Southern Power's biomass generating facility near Cushing. As of 9:45 this morning the city of Austin, Texas officially began obtaining energy generated by East Texas wood chips.
With America's largest biomass generating facility as the backdrop, dignitaries gathered in an air-conditioned tent to celebrate the accomplishment. Oscar Harper, Southern Power president led with the facility's significance to the local economy.
"This plant represents an investment of almost a half a billion dollars in this local community and the state of Texas," said Harper. "This plant employed over 1000 workers during construction and it represents 40 full time jobs today. We expect to burn over a million tons of wood waste a year and that million tons of wood waste will be purchased from land owners that are primarily within a 75 mile radius of this facility."
Southern Power is a subsidiary of Southern Company. President Thomas Fanning is a believer in the research and development of alternative fuels.
"We provide wind in Alabama. We invest in solar in a joint venture with Ted Turner and we look at a variety of other resources including geothermal in Hawaii," said Fanning. "We think this is important. It's exciting and costs are coming down."
For the next 20 years, Austin Energy will be purchasing the biomass energy to supplement other energy sources of wind and solar.
"The Climate Protection Plan that was passed by the city of Austin is really where it started," explained manager Larry Weism. "That Climate Protection Plan means we will reduce our carbon footprints substantially."
Weism shared the cost of biomass energy is higher than other sources, but will enable the city to reach a savings average beneficial to customers.
The contract with Austin is for 20 years. The huge pile of wood chips outside the facility is enough to generate the city's power for 30 days.
Extensive studies guarantee an ample supply for years to come, according to plant manager Ron Ray. " There's more than enough wood here to supply this facility for the entire life of the facility," said Ray.
President Obama calls for an "all the above energy policy." Prior to his East Texas arrival, Fanning boarded a plane out of Washington D.C. where he had lobbied to strengthen alternative energy sources.
"Southern Company is committed to making that potential a reality. It is important for the economy of the United States. It is important for our energy independence and I think we're working very constructively with the Obama administration to make that happen," said Fanning.
Clean alternative energy is a collaboration of national, state and local efforts.
Nacogdoches County is benefiting from the long range planning of biomass generation.
Rural roads leading to the plant are improved. There are cash donations to a technical center. And today Southern Power established a forestry scholarship. There's tax money for Cushing ISD too.
"This project is going on the tax roll this coming year about $200-million valuation," said superintendent Michael Davis. " That will generate somewhere around $500,000."
The tax money is used to pay off bonds for a new elementary school. This allows other funds to support a newly established Bearcat Education Program. Students will be reimbursed for up to 33 hours of college education.