Deep Pennsylvania Pockets

State provides funding for AD systems, feedstock growth, pellet and torrefaction projects.
By Lisa Gibson | November 01, 2011

In September, Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Financing Authority approved a total of about $1.4 million for four biomass projects, adding to the already astounding dollar amount invested in the biomass industry in the state over the past few years.

“This is nothing new for Pennsylvania,” says John Nikoloff, partner with Energy Resources Group Partners, a Pennsylvania-based consulting group. “The state has put out tens of millions of dollars for biomass projects in the last five, six years.”

The latest round of funding comes from the Renewable Energy Program and the Alternative and Clean Energy (ACE) Program. ACE was launched in 2008 with a budget of $180 million for renewable projects not relating to solar, wind or geothermal. The program still retains about half of its budget and has awarded more than $21 million in grants and loans to biomass projects around Pennsylvania, Nikoloff says, adding that the funding is ongoing and not limited to once per year.

“Ever since the state set up the Alternative and Clean Energy Program, there has been an awful lot of ongoing support for biomass projects,” he says.

The four projects include two anaerobic digesters and two biomass boilers, all qualifying for net metering, Nikoloff explains. A digester at Pleasant View Farms in Martinsburg, Pa., received about $790,200 in grants and loans to cover about half of its total project cost of $1.6 million. The dairy digester will create about 1.15 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of power each year, leaving plenty of extra electricity to sell to the grid.

The other anaerobic digester will use manure and potato peelings from Herr Foods in the Chester County town of Nottingham to produce about 2.84 million kWh of power. That project received a $350,000 grant to put toward its total cost of $1.8 million.

The biomass boilers will be installed in the 7,000-square-foot McKanna Cooperage Building in extreme northeast Pennsylvania’s Wayne County, and in organic greenhouse company Peace Tree Farm in Bucks County. The McKanna Cooperage Building received $35,430, about half the project cost, for biomass heating and cooling to replace about 4,500 gallons of diesel, Nikoloff says. Peace Tree Farms received almost $230,000 for its $460,000 project that will generate 2 megawatts of power from 465 tons of wood pellets per year.

ERG Partners has helped a number of projects gain funding from the ACE program and it’s not the only funding source available, Nikoloff says. The Energy Harvest Program was set up by the state departments of agriculture and environmental protection in 2003 and has since awarded more than $15 million to about 45 biomass projects including anaerobic digesters and combined-heat-and-power installations. The state has also funded feedstock growth, pellet, and torrefaction projects, realizing the benefits of endeavors that may not be as “sexy” as drop-in transportation fuels, Nikoloff says.

“I think the state’s done a really good job of recognizing it, working with individual farms, small businesses and communities to help finance everything from anaerobic digesters to heating systems for regional hospitals in the state,” he says.

—Lisa Gibson