Biomass by the trainload

The scheduled conversion of the Charter St. heating plant to natural gas (3 boilers) and biomass (1 boiler) will ease some environmental impacts. It will also provide a lot of insight about the logistics of generating energy from biomass and the impact on those who live and work near the plant. While the construction will be a pain, we’re used to that, and while it will seem to last forever, it should be over in 2013 (the first phase should begin by fall). But when the plant opens, there will also be a significant increase in truck and train traffic to bring in the biomass and haul out ashes and other materials. Here’s an excerpt from the project’s environmental impact report:

“Assuming normal rail deliveries for biomass fuels, truck traffic is expected to increase by eight trucks per day for paper pellets and limestone deliveries, as well as removing spent ash. Train delivery will increase significantly with three unit trains with a maximum of 20 rail cars per unit per day at least five days per week. In comparison, existing operations receive a maximum of three truck loads per day and one unit train with up to 15 rail cars four times per week.”

That will take some getting used to, but many would agree that it beats the alternative: If the trains can’t operate, say because of a rail strike, it would take an estimated 110 trucks per day to replace their capacity.

It could take up to 12 hours to unload two trains, the report notes. New sidings will be constructed to hold the waiting cars, and unloading facilities and storage bins will be built across the street from the current plant to handle the biomass. Here is a view of the current plant and a rendering of the remodeled facility.