Report: Biomass, biogas, waste-to-energy added 224 MW last year

By Erin Voegele | February 09, 2016

Bloomberg New Energy Finance and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy have released the fourth annual Sustainable Energy in America Factbook, which shows renewable energy comprised 20 percent of the U.S. power fleet last year, reaching 222 GW of installed capacity. Since 2008, installed capacity has increased 57 percent.

Together biomass, biogas and waste-to-energy added 224 MW of capacity last year, up 15 percent from 2014. Capacity for biomass, biogas, and waste-to-energy reached 13.5 GW last year, up 15 percent from 2008.

According to the report, policy support measures, primarily the production and investment tax credits, led to a spike in biomass installations in 2013, with 556 MW of capacity added. An additional 106 MW of capacity was added in 2014, along with 140 MW in 2015. The report indicates that new biogas capacity has been declining since 2012, partially due to low natural gas prices. One municipal solid waste plant was constructed in the U.S. last year, the 85 MW Palm Beach Renewable Energy Facility Unit 2. In addition, 11 small biomass and biogas units with a combined capacity of 42 MW were retired last year.

The report indicates asset finance for new-build biomass and biogas rebounded last year as project developers rushed to cash on the production tax credit before its expected expiration. The credit has since been extended. Asset finance for U.S. biomass was approximately $349 million last year, down from a peak of $1.41 billion in 2011. Asset finance for biogas reached $285 million last year, up from $39 million the prior year, but down from a peak of $478 million in 2007. According to BNEF, there have been no waste-to-energy deals since 2012, when $669 million was secured for the Palm Beach Biomass Plant Facility Unit 2. The report notes low levels of investment in 2013 and 2014 suggest relatively low new build for the next few years. Plants take several years to construct and commission, and investment acts as a leading indicator for capacity.

Biomass feedstock prices for 2014 were relatively stable when compared to 2013. In the Southeast, biomass feedstock averaged $41 per dry ton in 2014, up from $39 per dry ton in 2013. In the Northwest, biomass feedstock prices averaged $25 per ton in 2014, up from $23 per ton in 2013. In the Northeast, biomass feedstock prices fell slightly, from $33 per ton in 2013 to $32 per ton in 2014.

The report also notes capex for waste-to-energy and anaerobic digestion decreased slightly in 2015, but explains annual changes in these figures can be strongly influenced by costs in individual projects since there are relatively few projects under development in biogas and waste-to-energy at any given time.

Under the category of small-scale biogas, the report states development of small anaerobic digester (AD) projects collapsed after 2013 with a net increase of two digesters in 2014 and three in 2015. However, between 2008 and 2013 the yearly build ranged from 21 to 40, with 29 closed over the entire period. The report currently estimates there are 247 operational AD facilities at farms in the U.S. These facilities average 707 KW, with 169 smaller than 1 MW. Cumulatively, the 247 AD facilities have a capacity of 59 MW.

The Biomass Power Association has issued a statement in response to release of the fact book, nothing its data shows that more than half of the $445 billion that the U.S. has invested in renewable energy since 2007 has gone to solar technologies, with 21 percent awarded to wind projects. While biomass, biogas and waste-to-energy grew by a combined 15 percent since 2008, wind grew by 65 percent just in 2014.

“The annual Sustainable Energy in America Factbook provides an excellent overview of the state of renewable energy in the United States, and we thank BCSE and Bloomberg New Energy Finance for this annual undertaking,” said Bob Cleaves, president and CEO of the BPA. “The year 2015 marked a dramatic increase in public and government recognition of the necessity of renewable energy, particularly wind and solar. This is great news for the overall renewable energy industry.”

“The not-so-good news is that baseload renewable energy, like biomass, does not have access to the same level of support by policymakers. A reliable, sustainable energy infrastructure cannot rely solely on intermittent sources of energy,” Cleaves added. “Baseload technologies like biomass are an important part of the nation's energy system. We hope to see more government support in the coming years to preserve the existing asset base as well as add to the nation's biomass fleet.”