Communities Across the Country Embrace Biomass

By Bob Cleaves | August 29, 2012

No doubt most Biomass Magazine readers are familiar with  the Wall Street Journal biomass story that ran in late July. While the story presented evidence of regulatory noncompliance at a few facilities—some due to standards that have been nothing less than a moving target—it revealed scant evidence that when done right, biomass is not a clean, renewable source of energy.

The story failed to capture examples of the many proud, compliant facilities in our industry. The very same week the WSJ article was published, many exciting biomass developments took place across the country. These projects are not only significant for breaking new ground, they are also noteworthy for the recognition and favorable media coverage they are generating on a local level. It is truly encouraging to see local communities embrace the positive impact of biomass.

Here are just a few examples:

• New York – ReEnergy Holdings held Demo Day at its facility based in Lyons Falls, N.Y. Local sawmill loggers were invited to tour the facility and enter into contracts to sell ReEnergy the low-grade woody waste material they would typically leave on the forest floor. According to the Watertown Daily News, the innovative event attracted more than 100 participants, and resulted in at least 13 new suppliers for the facility. The story included a quote by a local supplier on the ReEnergy offer: “I’ve been in this business for 30 years. I’ve never had any company offer me the deal ReEnergy has,” said Ronald G. King Jr., shortly after deciding to join the program.

• Texas – On July 25, the largest biomass facility in the country officially began producing power on the grid. This 100 MW facility, operated by Southern Power in Nacogdoches, Texas, will power 70,000 homes in Austin and the surrounding areas. Next year, this facility is expected to share the largest-in-country distinction with a facility in Gainesville, Fla. A local newspaper, the Jacksonville Daily Progress, reported that the “facility is expected to burn about a million tons of wood fragments, which will be purchased from local landowners and businesses within a 75-mile radius from the plant… it will burn non-merchantable wood products from saw mills and other wood production waste, forest waste, precommercial thinning of cultivated trees and other noncommercial tree species.”

The Daily Progress quoted Texas state Rep. Chuck Hopson on the facility’s local benefits, who said, “They are going to buy all these wood products that we are now scrapping or we are having to burn and they are going to buy these products from 75 miles away. So for the people who are raising timber, it's another way that they can get some more money out of their product. It takes away a lot of biomass that we have left laying on the ground before and it's jobs for east Texas.”

• Tennessee – The U.S. DOE recently dedicated a new biomass steam facility at its Oak Ridge National Laboratories in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Local newspaper the Oak Ridger reported in a story about the new plant, “The biomass gasification technology and elimination of four fossil-fuel boilers reduces greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of 4,500 automobiles per year and models a sustainable solution to the nation’s energy needs.” The Oak Ridger included a quote from Johnny Moore, ORNL site office manager who said, “This project demonstrates that public institutions and private companies can partner to supply innovative clean-energy technologies on a large scale. The biomass plant will also provide an opportunity for researchers to gather important data from a large-scale biomass process.”

• Ohio – A Veterans Affairs medical center in Chillicothe, Ohio, held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its brand new biomass plant, which will provide steam heat and electrical power. According to the Chillicothe Gazette, the facility—the first operational biomass plant in the VA system—“is expected to create five to 10 jobs in the community, as well as reduce the VA’s carbon footprint by about 4,060 pounds per year.” The VA received federal stimulus money to assist in the building of the plant, which is expected to save the center more than $100,000 per year.

Finally, in an effort to aid communities in taking full advantage of all that biomass has to offer, in late July the U.S. Forest Service announced nearly $4 million in grants for 20 wood energy projects across the country.

We are looking forward to even more positive biomass news in the coming years.

Author: Bob Cleaves
President and CEO, Biomass Power Association