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Archive for March 4th, 2009|Daily archive page

A view from U of I power plant: a new biomass power plant in downtown Cedar Rapids would be ‘claim to fame’ for the city

In Alliant Energy, City Hall on March 4, 2009 at 3:02 pm

The University of Iowa’s power plant has been burning oat hulls, a byproduct of cereal-making at the Quaker plant in Cedar Rapids, since 2002.

In a discussion on Wednesday with Ferman Milster, the university’s associate director of utilities and energy management, Milster was asked about burning biomass materials like oat hulls for power and what the future might hold for such examples of renewable energy.

He was informed, too, that some community leaders in Cedar Rapids have pitched a proposal to Iowa’s congressional delegation for a huge federal grant that would pay to build a new biomass energy plant in downtown Cedar Rapids. City Hall, Alliant Energy, the downtown and nearby industries have been trying to figure out how to replace Alliant Energy’s flood-damaged Sixth Street power plant, which had provided low-cost steam.

In his comments, Milster couldn’t have been more excited about the future of burning biomass materials or more thrilled about the pursuit of a new biomass plant in downtown Cedar Rapids.

He said the current state of climate awareness and the current federal administration’s awareness of the issue will mean an increased emphasis on all kinds of renewable energy.

“You’re going to see a biomass fuel market develop,” Milster said. “And oat hulls will be a piece of that, an important piece.

“But there are numerous other sources that are byproducts of industrial production of some form. … And we (at the university) have been very, very active in identifying other sources of biomass. We have a laundry list of those.”

He said his power plant at the University of Iowa is readying to experiment burning corn cobs.

“Biomass fuel combustion is going to gain popularity,” he said. “The economics are going to start to favor it as we start to regulate carbon emissions. If the federal government regulates carbon emissions, that radically increases the value of biomass fuel.”

As for the idea of a biomass power plant in downtown Cedar Rapids, Milster suggested that the city may have a “perfect storm” in place to make such an idea work.

He noted that Cedar Rapids has an existing steam distribution system that serves the downtown and nearby industries. There’s a year-round need for power that a plant would produce. And the city, an agriculture-processing center, has multiple sources of renewable energy.

“A new district energy plant – a combined heat and power plant – is the ideal thing,” Milster said. “It just makes perfect sense. And you could make all renewable energy.

“Wow. What a claim to fame for Cedar Rapids to come out of the flood with a renewable energy plant and a district energy system. That’s super.”

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City Hall contemplating breaks on bids for local firms; what is local?

In City Hall on March 4, 2009 at 11:10 am

Should local businesses get a local-preference break in City Hall bids?

The City Council has been interested in that idea in recent months, no doubt, because of the huge, flood-recovery rebuilding effort that is in the offing for city buildings, facilities and infrastructure.

In a memo to the council Judy Lehman, the city’s purchasing manager, notes that some jurisdictions have established a “legally-binding preference” in the competition for public projects that gives a direct financial advantage to local companies.

Typically, Lehman reports that the advantage comes by subtracting a percentage off a local bidder’s bid price in a bidding competition that seeks to select the lowest responsible bid. Another approach is to restrict bidders to only those companies in the local area.

Providing a local-preference has pluses and minuses: According to Lehman:

The pluses: Local businesses will be supported and that support will be “repaid” by the local businesses’ commitment to the community. Local businesses contribute to the property-tax base and circulate their dollars locally.

The minuses: Competition for work could be reduced and costs for work could increase. Identifying how much money actually stays in the local community could be difficult. Picking local companies could alienate other jurisdictions.

Lehman says the council will need to decide what size of percentage break on bids it wants to have if it puts a local-preference policy in place. Also, the council will need to define what “local” means, she says. Is it at the city limits? What if corporate headquarters are outside of the city?