Powering Up With Biomass

By Rona Johnson
This month's issue is about biomass power. My belief that there has been a positive shift in the way people view biomass power plants, mainly because of the industry's potential for job creation, is being borne out by the bills being passed in state legislatures.

In Florida, the Senate Energy Committee passed Senate Bill 1186, which would ease the development of renewable energy. Although Florida doesn't have a renewable portfolio standard (RPS), this is a step in the right direction in terms of stimulating project development.

Wisconsin recently passed legislation (Assembly Bill 749) that provides a tax credit equal to 10 percent of the cost of equipment purchased to harvest or process woody biomass into fuel.

In New York, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and state Public Service Commission awarded $204 million for renewable energy projects, including NRG Energy Inc.'s plan to cofire with biomass at its Dunkirk Generating Station. I should also mention that New York increased its RPS last year from 25 percent to 30 percent of electricity generated from renewable sources by 2015.

In Washington, Gov. Christine Gregoire signed a bill that allows the Washington Department of Resources to provide five-year contracts for long-term biomass supply (see "Washington passes forest biomass contract law" on page 42).
This is just a smattering of what's happening in state legislatures and I'm sure I've overlooked several legislative initiatives.

This by no means gives biomass power projects the green light in some areas, however, as there are still pockets of resistance, which you can read about in associate editor Lisa Gibson's feature "Facing the Vocal Opposition" on page 58. Even in the midst of intense opposition, however, there is hope. In fact, I read an opinion piece in the Wasaudailyherald.com in Wausau, Wis, in support of the proposed Rothschild, Wis., biomass plant, which has been hotly contested. I was especially pleased to see this written in response to residents' pollution concerns: "The first is a fear of pollution. This has the simplest answer: It is a misplaced fear. This plant would burn only woody biomass-not other, dirtier forms of biomass-and would do so according to contemporary emissions standards." This article was written by the newspaper's editorial board after its meeting with executives from developer We Energies and the Domtar paper mill, where the project is being proposed.

This is proof that reaching out and making the case for clean-burning, job-creating biomass energy to intelligent, open-minded, well-intentioned people works. As Brian Manthey, We spokesman, said in Gibson's article when talking about providing information and answering questions posed by the public: "The burden of proof is on us." If the public can't go to the project developers for information they will get it elsewhere.