Let Us Be the First

By Tim Portz | October 07, 2013

In mid-July, the U.S. EPA and Administrator Gina McCarthy announced new emission limits for future power generating facilities.  Reactions to these rules were varied, but they generated plenty of “mehs,” as power industry insiders know the pipeline of new generation facilities is relatively small, particularly in the case of new coal plants.

Still, the suggested rule and the pathways available to meet the new limits are telling. In the vast majority of the mainstream coverage of these new limits, the first technology mentioned as a potential means for producers to achieve compliance is carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). While this technology is promising and should appear on the R&D budgets of every utility that derives a percentage of its power from coal, it is far from proven. So why, then, does the administration—via the EPA—continue to forward this as a means for compliance? Because CCS presents one of the only scenarios in which coal-derived power and a legitimate response to increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere can coexist.

Absent, so far, in this larger discussion of the carbon intensity of future power generation in the U.S. is biomass. It is fascinating that a technology without any real commercial deployment, such as CCS, can get more press than a solution that other countries have adopted, and is arguably a central element to their near- and long-term carbon mitigation strategies. The story, in bits and pieces, is told in this issue of Biomass Magazine.

So, let Biomass Magazine be the first to emphatically forward biomass-derived power as a near-term option to reduce the carbon intensity of power generation in this country. Biomass presents a commercially proven and widely deployed means to achieve the same goals the administration is aiming for when it forwards CCS. As  this month’s issue confirms with its focus on gasification, biomass continues to refine technologies that will facilitate the conversion of an even greater array of input streams into low-carbon power and fuels. These new limits for new production assets are just the beginning of what will likely be a spirited debate about carbon and energy in this country. As the discussion moves forward, it is vital that we all continue to remind policymakers and the general public that a pathway to low-carbon power already exists. We just need to embark upon  it.