A West Virginia University alumnus is using his knowledge of alternative energy fuel sources and economics to reduce timber industry waste and create power in Tyler County, Texas.
Paul Wielgus, managing director at GDS Associates, worked with East Texas Electric Cooperative and North American Procurement Company to develop a long-term contract that would allow ETEC to use tree tops, limbs and thinned timber left over from NAPCO’s logging business to fuel a 50 megawatt biomass power plant. Woodville, Texas, was the perfect location for the biomass plant due to its abundance of timber and existing logging industry.
The plant was funded and supported by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service, which administers programs that provide much-needed infrastructure to rural communities, including renewable energy.
To begin development, Wielgus assisted ETEC in the purchase of land next to NAPCO’s existing wood chipping mill. Design then began on the facility, which would use a wood boiler to burn the wood chips. Next, required contracts were established, crucial permits were obtained and fundamental county road upgrades were completed to withstand the weight of the half-million tons of wood waste per year that would be delivered to the site.
“There are 100 things you can do on any given day developing a project like this,” said Wielgus. “You have to decide what handful of tasks you need to do each day to keep the project on track. It can be very challenging to manage such a large project, so you need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
The plants construction created an estimated 250 jobs and 25 full-time jobs upon completion to run the plant, not including more than 60 jobs created to produce wood chips from non-merchantable timber. The 50 megawatts of electricity created by the plant is estimated to power 50,000 homes.
Wielgus received his master’s degree in mineral economics in 1979 from the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, formerly the College of Mineral and Energy Resources, after receiving a bachelor’s degree in economics from WVU’s College of Business and Economics.
“I have always been interested in energy economics, but that wasn’t a major that the economics department offered, so I looked outside of the College of Business and Economics for related classes,” said Wielgus. “The availability of wood science and other resource classes complemented my economics degree and gave me the concentration in energy I was looking for.”
A Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, native, Wielgus has had a successful career in energy development. Before joining GDS Associates, he worked throughout Texas and Louisiana developing power plants and establishing natural gas contracts for PepsiCo for their nationwide manufacturing plants.
“The way I look at it, my career started at WVU,” said Wielgus. “WVU was very flexible in letting me take classes that interested me outside of my specific departments and the fellowship opportunity I gained while receiving my masters led me to my first job that started it all. Every day is a great day to be a Mountaineer, and I am thankful for every opportunity it has provided.”
CONTACT: Mary C. Dillon, Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
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