Retrofitted Biomass Facilities: As Good As New

By Bob Cleaves | May 21, 2013

Retrofitting is an important practice that helps extend the life of a biomass facility. It allows a facility to adapt to changing technologies and environmental standards, ensuring compliance with new laws. Facilities sometimes qualify for government help toward the cost of the updates, which can sometimes be costly. Retrofitting is an easy, sensible way to maintain continued and reliable use of renewable energy resources, without constructing an entirely new facility.

A plan is currently under consideration by the Connecticut General Assembly to reduce the eligibility of biomass under the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS). The proposal would disqualify retrofitted biomass facilities as renewable energy producers, because the facility would not be “new” enough. If enacted, this will affect biomass facilities all over New England.

There are many reasons this proposal is not logical. Perhaps the biggest one is that a retrofitted biomass facility is every bit as clean as a brand new one; there is no practical difference between the two in terms of emissions and efficiency.

The owners of biomass facilities, both in and out of the state, have invested tens of millions of dollars to install state-of-the-art technology to comply with Connecticut’s stringent requirements. These investments, made in reliance on a stable energy policy, should be recognized and respected.
In addition to tightening emissions on biomass plants, the study opens the state's portfolio of renewable energy sources to large hydropower—including hydropower and, possibly, fossil fuel power generated in Canada—and gives the state a way to enter into long-term contracts with energy project developers.

Facility owners and operators won’t be the only ones financially affected by the Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection’s plan. The proposal stands to cost Connecticut taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. The study upon which proposed law is based shows that RPS program compliance costs would be at least 20 percent higher—or $300 million more over a 10-year period—if 75 percent of the currently eligible biomass resources were to be eliminated from the RPS beginning in 2015.

Up until a few weeks ago, Connecticut state government encouraged the practice of retrofitting. The state’s new approach to biomass is a reversal. It provides no environmental benefit, it will be more expensive for ratepayers, and its fundamental shift in policy will send a conflicting message to investors about the stability of the Connecticut market.

Author: Bob Cleaves
President and CEO, Biomass Power Association