Five Companies to Converge on Smethport Biomass Project

Smethport Web — by Nathan Muller

After a year of preparation and planning, work is about to begin on the biomass fueled Combined Heat and Power (CHP) facility in Smethport. The project, which will be rolled out in phases, is intended to demonstrate the use of low value wood as a sustainable alternative energy source for an entire community, serving as a unique model for Pennsylvania and the nation.

The first phase of the CHP project involves conducting a feasibility study and developing a business plan. In March, a Request for Qualifications (RFQs) was sent to 65 engineering firms identified by the U.S. Forest Service and additional organizations located both in the U.S. and Europe. Twelve engineering firms responded with applications for the Smethport project.  

Applicants submitted a Statement of Qualifications (SOQ), which were evaluated according to a weighted matrix system. The first four items on the matrix were “must haves”. Firms that lacked any of these items were automatically eliminated from further consideration.

Each of the 17 other criteria were voted on by the evaluators and a weight of each as to importance was averaged from this vote. SOQs were then “graded” against the matrix on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 meeting or exceeding the objective and 1 for not meeting or weakly meeting the objectives.

Last week, the German engineering firm of Lahmeyer International emerged as the winning bidder after a thorough evaluation by a select panel representing the 30-member Smethport Woody Biomass Leadership Team (SWBLT).

“In terms of proposal quality, Lahmeyer was considered by the judges to be the Cadillac – perhaps more accurately – the ‘Mercedes Benz’ of the applicants,” noted Smethport Mayor Ross Porter who co-chairs the SWBLT with Dr. Tim Pierson of Pennsylvania State University. “Lahmeyer became the standard against which all the other applicants were evaluated.”

Pierson added, “The scoring matrix was essential to impartially evaluate and select our engineering firm. It was an extremely valuable tool that allowed us to independently analyze each applicant firm’s qualifications in a precise and thorough manner.”

The Lahmeyer team will arrive during the last week of August to begin the on-site work. The firm will coordinate a team of leading engineering firms, three of which are German and two based in the U.S. The participation of these firms is as follows:

Lahmeyer International (LI), as the team leader, will be in charge of Project Management and will contribute all necessary expertise relevant for dealing with any issues that arise during the project period. Lahmeyer will address all aspects of the project and consult with the rest of the team, as needed.

O’Brien & Gere (OBG), as the U.S. partner (with local offices in Philadelphia and Danville), will contribute necessary expertise in local regulations, environmental permitting, site assessment, development of constructability reviews, and task estimation. The firm is ranked at No. 62 in the 2009 listing of the Top 200 Environmental Firms complied by Engineering News Record (ENR), the preeminent engineering industry publication.

GEF Ingenieur AG (GEF) will be in charge of the district heating transportation and distribution piping system. This includes the related issues between the supply of heat energy from the generation facility and the first valve after the pipes enter the buildings to be supplied. GEF will address issues associated with heat network system layout and design, including pipe stress analysis.

Seeger Engineering AG (SEEGER) will be responsible for the engineering and planning of the biomass CHP plant. This will include all related issues from wood fuel storage and handling, to the supply of heat to the district heating network.

In addition, Pennsylvania based international engineering consulting firm Gannett Fleming, Inc. will coordinate with the Lahmeyer team and oversee the massive water system infrastructure replacement project that the SWBLT hopes to dovetail with the district heat-piping project, offsetting construction costs for both initiatives.

Much of Smethport’s aging and failing water system was installed during the 19th century and early 20th century and needs to be replaced. The exorbitant price tag of the water system replacement project spurred early interest in the woody biomass project.

The selection of Lahmeyer follows a $50K award from the Richard King Mellon Foundation and a $25K award from the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies. Additional feasibility study funds were recently awarded from the Forest Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the amount of $75,000.

The Smethport Leadership Team has completed much of the pre-feasibility work. A thorough database of Borough customer heat loads has been prepared to assist the Lahmeyer in its planning.

Phase Two of the project will entail the actual engineering and design plans for the project and Phase Three is actual construction of the system. Phase Two and Three cannot proceed unless positive results are established in Phase One.

The Borough of Smethport has been actively exploring the feasibility of tapping into woody biomass as a carbon neutral energy alternative to fossil fuels since July 2008. Since then, the project has gained momentum, with county, state and federal officials joining directly in the effort to make the CHP system in Smethport a reality.

A successful demonstration project in Smethport would stimulate the local economy by keeping energy dollars in the community, plus help stabilize the regional timber industry and keep forest crews working. The project would also generate new jobs in construction, trenching, pipe fitting, maintenance, installation and service, repair, engineering, and process control. It is anticipated that even more dollars would be brought into Smethport through eco-energy tourism.

See related story in BIOMASS Magazine.