Ground broken on energy facility

Published 11:03 pm Thursday, February 17, 2011

Groundbreaking: Officials with BASF, GPC Green Energy, the Southeastern Public Service Authority and the city of Suffolk prepare for a ceremonial groundbreaking at the BASF site Thursday.

City and business officials broke ground Thursday on a new cogeneration facility at BASF Chemical Company on Wilroy Road.

The new facility will collect gas from the Southeastern Public Service Authority’s regional landfill via an existing three-mile pipeline. Once it arrives at the Wilroy Road site, the gas will be converted into electricity and steam, which will power the BASF plant. Excess power will be sold onto the grid, lighting up about 4,000 Suffolk homes.

“It’s a win-win-win for everybody,” said Skip Smith with GPC Green Energy, the company that will purchase the gas from the authority. “What we’re doing is right for the right reasons.”

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The $22-million project has been in the works for nearly 10 years — a fact Smith made light of during his speech. However, now that the project is finally on track, he’s not planning to waste any time. He hopes the building will be operational by August or September.

Brett Vassey of the Virginia Manufacturers Association also spoke during the event.

“This is a great day,” he said. “We have a long history of investing in our communities and being creative and innovative.”

The BASF plant has long used landfill gas to power a portion of the plant, but the existing system is inefficient and wastes a lot of the gas the landfill produces, Smith said.

“Hopefully, this will be an even bigger success story than we had in the past,” said Patrick Hochstrasser, Suffolk site manager for BASF. The project will make the Suffolk site “one of the most competitive sites from an energy point of view,” he said.

In September, the city’s Economic Development Authority and City Council approved $20 million of low-interest bonds for the site through the city’s recovery zone.

The project is expected to create nine new jobs, remove about 200,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the air, generate about 100 temporary construction jobs and add to the city’s coffers through machinery and tools taxes.

“It’s no question it’s beneficial to us,” said Rowland Taylor, executive director of the Southeastern Public Service Authority. The project will provide a steady stream of revenue for the authority.

According to company officials, the new site should not generate any excess noise.

“It’s clear when you see what we are doing, you cannot be against this project,” Hochstrasser said.

“The co-generation project will help Virginia to lead the way towards greener sources of energy, and this project will position Suffolk as a major player in the renewable energy industry,” Mayor Linda T. Johnson said in a press release.