WPL allowed to expand biomass cofiring tests

By Lisa Gibson | January 05, 2011

Wisconsin Power and Light Co. in Madison was recently granted a Research and Testing Exemption from the state Department of Natural Resources, allowing expansion of its biomass cofiring test burns at the Nelson Dewey Generating Station in Cassville.

WPL conducted its first tests between November 2009 and November 2010, cofiring up to 20 percent wood chips, agricultural pellets and native grasses, according to Steve Schultz, spokesperson for WPL parent company Alliant Energy. “We decided we want to try to burn more,” he said. “This exemption we received now allows for cofiring up to 50 percent.” WPL is permitted to test about 20 different types of materials, but sticks to a chosen few, sourced from a 100-mile radius around the plant. “A lot of that material is coming from within southwest Wisconsin,” Schultz said.

The exemption allows a 12-month test burn without the permitting that would be required for cofiring on a permanent basis. Schultz expects the tests to begin in the spring of this year and, unlike the first round of tests, the clock doesn’t start ticking until cofiring begins, he said. The first test consisted of about 24 trials ranging from a couple hours to days, Schultz said, but the second round will include two test burns of longer duration.

WPL is not looking into burning biomass on a permanent basis, but instead is conducting the tests to focus on balanced electricity generation, to explore job opportunities in the biomass industry, and to better understand the supply chain. The company is evaluating environmental impacts, supply chain capabilities, material delivery and handling costs, and the blending and combustion of biomass materials.

“The information we’re gathering will certainly be used in future strategic planning,” Schultz said.