Plant turns to natural gas

Published 11:28 am Wednesday, September 28, 2011


FRANKLIN—Converting its steam-making process from electric to natural gas is expected to turn into “a significant savings in energy costs” for Ashland on General Thomas Highway, said Plant Manager Andy Chapman.

Formerly Hercules, the company will invest $5.7 million to prepare the plant for the changeover, which will involve installing two natural gas boilers, Chapman said. In addition, a three-mile pipeline will be installed along Shady Brook Trail to the plant from Highway 58.

Ashland buys steam from the nearby Dominion Virginia Power plant, which plans to convert from coal to wood for producing electricity.

“They do not make as much electricity as they used to and our costs (for steam) have doubled,” Chapman said.

Steam is used as heat in the paper chemical products-making process.

“When they make electricity, they burn coal to make steam and run it through a tube and we access the steam,” Chapman said. “When they’re not making electricity, they have to run three large boilers (to make steam) so it’s not effective for them or us.”

Chapman expects the project to be completed in May. The installation of boilers will not create any jobs; Ashland employs 65.

“These are fully automated boilers,” he said.

Columbia Gas will provide the natural gas.

A larger-than-needed pipeline is being installed so it can be extended to the Turner Tract industrial park.

“We plan to have it if an end-user needs it,” said John Smolak, executive director of Franklin-Southampton Economic Development Inc. “It would be available, and we’ve been working with Columbia Gas with the costs involved and getting some early estimates.”