Although the adoption of biomass power is on the rise in Europe, the same case is not true in the United States where renewable power generating facilities are increasingly coming under attack. Plans for a proposed biomass plant in northern Michigan were recently shelved due to public opposition, and the utility board has decided to reconsider a natural gas plant instead. Proposed facilities in other states are also facing opposition.
Biomass has been eagerly pursued by utility companies with a renewable power mandate because they are a quick and inexpensive way to meet renewable energy portfolio targets. Biomass is a local fuel that is well suited to agricultural areas. Although opponents suggest that biomass facilities will contribute to ongoing deforestation, biomass fueled plants tend to focus on using waste materials, including agricultural field waste and branches and leaves generated from logging, rather than competing for valuable lumber or other crop material. In the best cases, waste material that otherwise represents a problem that needs to be disposed of serves as the feedstock for the power plant. The dual efficiency of eliminating a waste problem and providing power generation at the same time is a positive synergy that these plants offer.
In the case of the Traverse City (MI) Light & Power utility, there is both a state mandate of 10 percent generation from renewable sources by 2015 as well as the utility's own goal of generating 30 percent of its electrical power from renewable sources by 2020. With the shelving of the biomass plant plan, it is unlikely that the utility will meet either of their goals.
Biomass is no more a silver bullet for energy generation than any other technology. Each system has its own benefits and drawbacks, and biomass is no different. The wind energy industry faced this for many years, and still encounters irrational opposition, although its acceptance is continuing to grow. Biomass energy is likely facing a similar point in its development.
Image via: Wikimedia Commons
written by Richard Hood, July 24, 2010
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