Hawaii's Conversion of Coal Plant to Biomass Marks a New Trend

August 27, 2008

A coal-fired power plant in Pepeekeo, Hawaii, that formerly provided electricity to a sugar mill is now being converted into a 24-megawatt (MW) biomass power plant. MMA Renewable Ventures is financing the conversion and will operate the new plant, which will be called the Hū Honua Bioenergy Facility. Located about 8 miles north of Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii, the facility will draw on residual wood from the local timber industry and other biomass wastes to produce enough power for about 18,000 homes, meeting up to 10% of the Big Island's electricity needs. To kickoff the conversion project, a Hawaiian blessing ceremony was held at the facility on August 20. See the MMA Renewable Ventures press release (PDF 83 KB) and the Hū Honua Bioenergy LLC Web site. Download Adobe Reader.

The conversion from coal to biomass power is a growing trend in the United States. Back in 2006, Public Service of New Hampshire finished converting one of its coal-fired power plants into a 50-MW biomass power plant, the Northern Wood Power Project, which is fueled with wood chips. Earlier this year, DTE Energy Services, Inc. agreed to buy the 50-MW E.J. Stoneman Power Plant in Cassville, Wisconsin, with plans to convert it to burn wood waste in 2009. And on August 22, Georgia Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company, asked the state's public service commission for approval to convert the coal-fired Plant Mitchell to run on wood fuel. If approved, the retrofit will begin in 2011 and the biomass plant will start operating in mid-2012. The 96-MW biomass plant will run on surplus wood from suppliers within a 100-mile radius of the plant, which is located near Albany, Georgia. See the article from the EERE Network News on the Northern Wood Power Project, and see the press releases from DTE Energy Services and the Southern Company.

Companies are also building new power plants designed to run on biomass, with the most recent example being the Snowflake White Mountain Biomass Power Plant in Snowflake, Arizona. The 24-MW biomass plant began operating in June. Owned and operated by Renegy Holdings, Inc., the plant will burn waste recycled paper fibers from an adjacent paper mill, as well as waste wood material from the area's forest industries. About 75% of the plant's fuel will come from forest thinning efforts on U.S. forest lands in Arizona's White Mountains. Meanwhile, Dominion Virginia Power is hedging its bets by building a coal-fired power plant that can draw on biomass for up to 20% of its fuel. Construction of the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center began in late June, and a groundbreaking ceremony was held on August 14. See Renegy Holdings' press release and Web site for the Snowflake plant and Dominion's press release and Web site for its power plant.