Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Canandaigua VA facility expects to save nearly $1M a year

(August 17, 2010)

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A $15 million plan to replace the
natural-gas heating system at the Canandaigua V.A.
Medical Center with wood chip boilers is expected
to save the facility as much as $900,000 a year.

The new technology will likely increase some air
emissions, which the American Lung Association
finds troubling. But the increased pollutant levels
will stay within government limits, V.A. officials

"We just think it's going to be good for the economy
and good for the V.A. We have mandated energy
goals, one of which is renewable energy," said
Steven Bolewski, V.A. network energy manager based
in Syracuse.

Work on the project, to be funded with federal
economic stimulus money, is expected to start in
September and be finished in about two years.

The existing boilers at the V.A. use mainly natural
gas and some fuel oil. They were installed in 1964.
The building where they are located was built in
1934. The existing boilers will stay in place as
emergency backups.

In addition to new boilers, the project includes a
wood-chip storage area and a conveyor for the
wood chips, and the building will be expanded to
about 11,500 square feet, about doubling its size.

The new boilers will use about 15,000 tons of wood
chips annually, mainly the byproducts of
businesses in the region, such as arborists,
furniture makers, loggers and pallet makers. V.A.
officials said two or three truckloads of wood chips
will be delivered to the site between 8 a.m. and 4 p.
m. on weekdays.

Rather than directly burning the wood chips, the

technology will heat them to produce a gas that will
actually be burned to produce heat and energy.
Advanced air cleansing devices will be used to
reduce emissions, V.A. officials said.

Ash left over from the process will total less than 1
percent of the volume of the wood chips used and
can be land-filled or used for soil enhancement on
farms and landscaping.

In 2009, the V.A. facility spent $651,000 on
electricity, and $1.5 million for natural gas to
provide heat. At about $40 per ton, the wood chips w
ill cost about $600,000 annually. The new system
also will produce a small portion of the V.A.'s
electricity, saving about $112,000 annually,
depending on the weather.

James Winebrake, professor of public policy and
chairman of the department of public policy at
Rochester Institute of Technology and an expert in
energy policy, said an increase in carbon dioxide
emissions is balanced out because the wood chips
are from trees that absorbed the carbon while  

In addition, the plan calls for the use of waste wood
that might otherwise be discarded to release carbon
as it decomposed without any energy production
benefits, Winebrake said.

The net reduction in carbon emissions would be
about 7,800 tons a year, V.A. officials said.