BPU Proposes District Heat Retooling

After a 15-month engineering study of the Jamestown Board of Utilities District Heating system, the utility is proposing a project to expand and retool the utility’s thermal heating system.

The new initiative is named, “Retool District Heating: Charting for the Future.”

The Ramboll Engineering analysis of the BPU’s unique heating system was funded by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and provides the BPU with suggested alternative fuel sources for the Jamestown BPU thermal heating network.

Since 1984, the BPU has generated hot water that is distributed through insulated underground lines that flow throughout downtown Jamestown and north on Main Street to provide hot water and heat to the 70 buildings on the system, including hundreds of apartments, school buildings, churches and other private and public facilities. The hot water passes through a heat exchanger in each building providing heat to the customer’s equipment and returns the resulting cooled water to the power plant for reheating.

The BPU’s coal power plant originally supplied the heat for the system; currently, however, the heat is provided by natural gas generation and boilers as the BPU no longer uses coal for generation.

“Due to the New York State Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, we now must plan to transition away from natural gas as our primary fuel source to provide heat to the system,” explained BPU General Manager David L. Leathers. “Also, our piping system is aging and the current economics and reliance on natural gas likely will not justify wholesale pipe replacements without a new heat source.”

According to Leathers, the Ramboll Study has pointed to several new heating options, with two methods selected by Leathers and BPU engineering staff members for further review and analysis.

“These new options will require Federal and State funding to study and undertake the ‘retooling’ of our District Heating system,” Leathers said. “In addition, our District Heat customers also will see increased rates because of the investment which includes newly installed pipes in the ground and a new heating method.”

BPU Transmission and Distribution Manager Kristofor G. Sellstrom outlined the two most economical choices the utility has selected for further engineering analysis from the more than thirty options evaluated.

“This first option leverages the BPU’s wastewater treatment plant which has a constant flow of cleaned warm water leaving the facility where a heat exchanger and water-water heat pump could extract this continuous supply of thermal energy. This type of solution is utilized in European countries, so the technology is proven,” stated Sellstrom. “However, this option requires a significant increase in the amount of underground pipe to travel from our current system through our industrial areas in Jamestown and Falconer to the BPU Wastewater Treatment Plant located on Quaint Road in the Town of Poland. New customers would need to be added along this additional pipe to provide a competitive levelized energy cost.”

Leathers noted that there are more than 40 potential customers in the path leading from Buffalo Street through the industrial area of Allen Street to the Quaint Road facility, including two schools and many manufacturing facilities.

“We are beginning to communicate the possibility of serving district heat to these prospective customers,” said Leathers. “This path for district heat’s future is the lowest-cost renewable approach for the community and can provide customers with a stable, reliable and easy-to-maintain and operate energy service. In addition, NYSERDA has a Flex-Tech grant program that is currently available to help industries study their heating systems and overall efficiency with the potential to evaluate possibly joining an expanded District Heating system.”

Business Development Coordinator Ellen Ditonto and others will visit potential customers to assist them in applying for such funding through the Flex-Tech Program. This allows customers to do a detailed analysis of their energy usage, potential energy efficiency improvements and options for future clean heating and cooling.

“Another path forward is based on ground-source heat extraction using a significant number of closed-loop wells. The next step is to have a few thermal test wells drilled near the power plant,” said Sellstrom. “These test wells will evaluate the thermal energy extraction rate per foot in our area which is a key factor in the quantity and depth of wells that would need to be drilled to supply sufficient energy for the current system and, therefore, the overall economics of the project. If a high energy extraction rate is available, geothermal may be the most economical heating method we can utilize while working within the State’s Climate Act.”

“In the meantime, the BPU is working to replace aging pipes and valves to ensure reliability for the customers in the coming years as the utility transitions away from natural gas in accordance with the State’s energy plan,” noted BPU Board Chair Gregory Anderson. “It is our hope that upgrading the utility’s District Heating system will continue to provide heating to our customers for decades ahead.”

“We will pursue funding resources and work with customers to progress a new centralized system leveraging wastewater effluent or geothermal heat,” indicated Leathers. “These efforts will take further research and time. By the year 2030, we should be ready to embark on a new path for our District Heating Division, retooling a system that currently is 40 years old.”


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $2.99/week.

Subscribe Today