‘This is only the beginning’

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From the left front row, Senator Mary Landrieu, ULL President Joseph Savoie, Acadia Parish Police Jury Member A.J. "Fatty" Broussard, State Representative Jack Montoucet and Ramesh Kolluru help cut the ribbon during the Cleco Alternative Energy Center’s grand opening. Standing in the back is Crowley Mayor Greg Jones.

Cleco Alternative Energy Center holds grand opening

Howell "Howie" Dennis is the news editor for The Crowley Post-Signal. He can be reached at howie.dennis@crowleytoday.com or 337-783-3450.

After years of planning and preparation, the Cleco Alternative Energy Center held its grand opening at the Crowely facility Wednesday afternoon.

The center, formed in partnership with the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, will provide research opportunities into alternative fuel sources.

The center is part of the five-acre UL Lafayette Energy Development Complex in Crowley. It was created in response to a directive from the Louisiana Public Service Commission to Louisiana power producers to evaluate technical and economic aspects of producing electricity power from sustainable materials, rather than fossil fuels.

UL Lafayette Dean of Engineering Dr. Mark Zappi, who along with Cleco’s Ben Russo and state Rep. Jack Montoucet, have been working for years to see the center opened, could barely contain his excitement. 

“My mother jokes that she has a son and a daughter that are doctors and one of them actually helps people,” he said to the laughter of those in attendance. “I want this facility to be the kind that actually helps people ... like my sister, not me.”

Zappi went on to thank the different companies and agencies that helped to fund the center — Cleco, the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Energy and UL Lafayette. 

“We intend on using this center for reasons,” he said, “to learn about creating energy using alternative methods, to represent educational opportunities for the students at ULL and South Louisiana Community College, to provide economic development for the people of Crowley, Acadia Parish and the surrounding areas, and for research and development.”

Zappi also expressed his thanks to Montoucet, Russo and U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, who was in attendance, for their work in getting the center opened.

“You don’t tell Jack Montoucet ‘no,’” Zappi said.

Zappi introduced the Altenative Energy Center’s Ramesh Kolluru as the event’s emcee.

“It is great to be here for the day Mark’s vision became a reality. Unfortunately, he picked the one guy who doesn’t speak English to be his emcee,” joked Kolluru.

He then introduced UL Lafayette President Joseph Savoie.

“The only thing wrong with Zappi is that he lacks enthusiasm,” quipped Savoie. “The center will help all of us — working together — to be socially, economically and environmentally conscious, leading to greater energy independence and energy diversification,”

He then thanked Landrieu for her dedication to alternative energy research. 

“As chair of the energy committee, she is clearly committed,” he said. 

The Public Service Commission’s Clyde Holloway was the next to speak. 

“Renewable energy has been one of the most important items on my agenda ever since I took office,” he said. “It’s an honor to finally see this happen. This facility will let us know what it costs for renewable energy.”

Kolluru then introduced Cleco President Darren Olagues.

“With this facility, we started with a mission to gather data on possible renewable energy sources specific to Louisiana,” said Olagues. “While we are achieving our mission, this facility has provided economic development benefits by assisting other renewable energy businesses that offer jobs and a possible future for alternative energy.

“This is an important facility at an important time,” Olagues added. “Not many people will believe we’re in Crowley and we’re not talking about oil and gas. I am proud to represent Cleco today.”

When Montoucet took the microphone his pride was evident.

“Never in my wildest dreams as District 42’s state representative would I have thought I’d be a part of something as great as this will be for Crowley and Acadia Parish,” he said. “A facility like this doesn’t happen unless the stars, the moon the politicians and the community line up.

“I remember at that first meeting (with Russo and Zappi) how excited we were. When people work together, good things happen.”

Montoucet then addressed Landrieu, who was smiling on the front row. 

“And Mary, this is only the beginning, Sugar,” he smiled. “You’re going to be getting a lot of phone calls from me.”

“I don’t know how to follow up that except to say that I won’t call you ‘Sugar.’” said Kolluru to Landrieu as she laughed from her seat.

The Acadia Parish Police Jury’s A.J. “Fatty” Broussard spoke next.

“Greg (Crowley Mayor Greg Jones) and I were just talking before we came in here,” he said. “We both agree that this is a good day for Crowley and Acadia Parish.”

Kolluru then introduced Landrieu. 

“I am really proud of the partnership between Cleco and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette,” she said. “And Jack (Moutoucet), there is money in Washington, D.C., for this. As chair of the energy committee, I will be making sure we have some set aside.

“There is no reason that Louisiana can’t lead in energy for the next 100 years like we have for the last 100 years.”

Cleco has provided about 70 percent of the costs of the $8 million facility. The state Department of Natural Resources, working with the U.S. Department of Energy, provided about 20 percent; UL Lafayette has provided about 10 percent.

The Acadia Parish Police Jury helped acquire the land in Crowley Industrial Park by trading property with the UL Lafayette Foundation.

Some of the center’s features include:

• a 3-ton per day biomass-fed gasifier which converts biomass into either power or chemicals, through the production of synthesis gas;

• a 200-foot-long solar thermal concentrating array system that uses reflected sunlight to produce power via heated fluids, such as steam;

• a 65 kW ElectraTherm Green Machine, which is a heat-to-power generating system that captures solar-based heat to generate fuel-free, emission-free electricity;

• a 0.25 ton per day biomass torrefaction unit, which thermally converts biomass, such as wood chips, into biocoal or biochar;

• a mobile 250-gallon anaerobic digester system, which converts waste products into methane;

• a large, high-bay pilot testing area that provides capacity for other pilot-process systems to be developed;

• a fully equipped, state-of-the-art analytical laboratory; and

• a biomass feedstock storage area.