Biomass Power Gains Ground

Biomass Boiler, University of Nottingham Scien...
Image by Bryn Jones2008 via Flickr

While solar and wind power are already established alternative energy sources, biomass power is not used as much. But things will be changing in favor of biomass, what with the various biomass power plants rising up in different parts of the nation.

If the bill concerning the fight on climate change is passed by the House of Representatives, electric utilities will be required to generate 20 percent of their power from sustainable sources by 2020. While the obvious choice is solar and wind powers, some locations might just not have enough sunshine or wind.

This is the reason why electric utilities in the Midwest and Southeast are now building large biomass plants that will use wood and other plant materials. The utilities would receive federal tax credits for producing renewable energy.

One such building is the $135 million biomass power plant that Atlanta-based Southern Co. will be erecting in the Atlanta suburbs. Another Atlanta power cooperative, Oglethorpe Power Corp, has bought land to build two 100-megawatt biomass power plants that costs $400 million each. Progress Energy Inc., has also announced that it will be buying power from a biomass power plant in Hartsville, South Carolina.

Forecasters predict that by 2030, biomass power will comprise 4.5% of the total energy consumed in the United States. Wind will count for only 2.5%, while solar will come in third place. The three renewable sources will still lag behind the more established power sources, such as nuclear, hydroelectric, natural gas, and coal.

The proposed legislation that would penalize greenhouse-gas emissions and at the same time get tax credits and loan guarantees for renewable energy sources, is giving the needed boost to plant-based fuels. One advantage biomass has over other renewable energy sources is its dependability. As long as there’s biomass that will be fed into the furnace, the plant will continuously provide energy.

Some might say that greenhouse gas is still released when biomass is burned in the furnace.  But the process is considered to be carbon-neutral. The biomass only emits only the carbon that the plants absorbed while growing. This is the same amount of carbon the plants will naturally emit when they die and decompose. In contrast, burning coal releases carbon that should not have been released to the atmosphere at all.

Biomass power plants can use scrap wood from their region’s timber industry, while other utility companies are pondering on planting crops such as energy-rich grasses that are designed to be burned in power plants.

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