Riding the Renewable Rollercoaster
As with any industry there are bound to be highs and lows. I was reminded of that the past couple of week as one biomass project was scrapped but another one is in the construction phase.
I was disappointed when I read the news that electric utility FirstEnergy Corp. had decided to abandon its plans to repower two of its units at its R.E. Burger Plant in Shadyside Ohio, with biomass. But I understand that it was due to a significant decrease in the cost of electricity.
Akron, Ohio-based FirstEnergy’s biomass plans were prompted by a 2005 Consent Decree settlement with the U.S. EPA, whereas the utility was obligated to repower, scrub or shut down units 4 and 5 as part of an overall plan to reduce sulfur-dioxide emissions.
The utility had planned to use wood and agricultural waste, including manure, and landfill and food waste instead of coal to fire the plant, but in the end electricity prices weren’t high enough to cover the cost of installing smokestack scrubbers, modifying the boilers to burn wood and maintaining the boilers.
Instead the company will have to shut down units 4 and 5 at its Shadyside plant by the end of the year, and says the 79 employees with either continue at the Burger Plant to help with the shut down process or be temporarily reassigned to other First Energy facilities. Eventually, the company says it will offer these workers other jobs within the company. Let’s hope they don’t become part of the growing mass of unemployed in the U.S.
It’s a shame the plant couldn’t move forward with its plan because it would have created more economic development in the region for potential suppliers of waste wood, crop residue, animal manure and landfill waste. If successful, it also would have been a great model for other projects in Ohio and the surrounding states.
But as the saying goes, as one door closes, another opens. That door is in Oregon where Iberdrola Renewables Inc. has started construction of its 26.8-megawatt biomass cogeneration plant. The plant will be located in Lakeview, Ore., and will produce enough power for 18,000 homes. The plant will use about 160,000 bone-dry tons of logging and mill residue from a nearby sawmill will provide steam for that operation.
We wish Iberdrola all the best during the construction process and hope to see the finished plant which is expected to be operational by 2012.