This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

August 26, 2009

Biomass Power Catches Fire in Ohio, Florida, Georgia, and New Hampshire

Under a recent federal court agreement, an Ohio utility will soon convert a large coal-fired power plant into one using primarily renewable biomass fuels, making it the largest such plant to do so. Ohio Edison Company, a subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp., agreed to retrofit its R.E. Burger Units 4 and 5 near Shadyside, Ohio, as part of a 2005 federal consent agreement in a lawsuit aimed at reducing pollution. Under an amendment filed on August 11 in federal court in Akron, Ohio, the power company said it intends to replace the 312 megawatts (MW) of electricity now generated at Burger with biomass by 2012, making it one of the largest biomass power facilities in the United States. The revamped facility will also burn coal, but for no more than 20% of its power. Ultimately, Ohio Edison plans on using a "closed-loop" system for its biomass supply, drawing on energy crops specifically grown to provide a constant supply of biomass to the power plant. See the press releases from the U.S. Department of Justice and FirstEnergy (PDF 370 KB). Download Adobe Reader.

While the Ohio endeavor is notable for its scale, biomass projects of all sizes also seem to be catching fire—figuratively speaking—across the country. For example, Florida is the site of at least three announced projects. In May, the Gainesville City Commission approved a contract between Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) and Gainesville Renewable Energy Center, LLC (GREC), under which GREC will build and operate a 100-MW biomass power plant in the city to supply the utility. The plant will be fired by forestry waste material as well as urban wood waste—wood from tree trimming and discarded pallets—and is expected to come online in 2013. And ADAGE LLC, a joint venture owned by affiliates of AREVA SA and Duke Energy Company, has picked Hamilton County, about 80 miles west of Jacksonville, as the proposed site of its first U.S. biomass power plant. This facility is the initial model in what ADAGE says will be a series of 50-MW biomass power plants designed to burn clean wood waste as fuel to produce electricity. Elsewhere in the state, Biomass Gas & Electric LLC (BG&E) is planning a 42-MW site, dubbed the Northwest Florida Renewable Energy Center, which will use gasification technology to burn wood chips. See the press releases from GRU and ADAGE, as well as the BG&E Web site.

Florida is not the only hotbed of biomass. In May, the Oglethorpe Power Corporation closed on the purchase of a 355-acre tract in Warren County, Georgia, for a proposed biomass generating plant. The Warren County site was one of five Georgia parcels optioned by Oglethorpe last fall as potential sites for two or three planned 100-MW biomass facilities. Pending favorable environmental review, the company anticipates operation for the first plant in 2014. And at least one project may have the sweet smell of success: Lindt USA, a chocolate manufacturer, recently collaborated with Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH) to conduct a test burn of cocoa bean shells as a potential biomass resource. If the results show the shells work well as fuel, the chocolate maker could be providing the shells to the power company by the end of the year. See the press releases from Oglethorpe and PSNH.