South Leads Biomass Power Growth
The Carolinas were in the thick of it as southern states led the way to a 14% surge in U.S. electricity generation from biomass over the past five years – from 56 gigawatthours (GWh) in 2010 to 64 GWh.
In 2015, electricity generation from biomass across all sectors accounted for 11.3% of renewable electricity generation and 1.6% of total electricity generation in the United States.
Nearly half of the electricity generated from biomass in 2015 was at industrial facilities outside of the electric power sector, such as pulp and paper mills. Along the Cape Fear River, forest waste powers the International Paper plant in Riegelwood.
Within the electric power sector, biomass accounted for 6.3% of renewable electricity and 0.8% of total U.S. electricity generation. Four hundred daily truckloads of wood waste provide half of the energy at Southport Power which provides heat to ADM and electricity to Duke Energy.
Several states in the South Census region, have increased their electricity generation from biomass. These states have ample forest resources, generally poor wind resources, and relatively unfavorable solar resources (compared to the Southwest), making biomass among the more readily available renewable energy resources in the region.
Eastern North Carolina has added methane – the burnable part of natural gas – produced from swine waste to the mix. Projects announced this spring by Duke Energy well increase the Tar Heel state’s electricity generation from biomass some 5% over the next couple of years.
Virginia has a statewide program to convert coal plants to biomass, with several plants that converted during 2013. Three of these plants, each rated at 51 megawatts (MW) and operated by Dominion Power, are located in Alta Vista, Hopewell, and Southampton. The conversions to biomass are part of Dominion's commitment to achieve Virginia's voluntary goal of generating 15% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025. Also in 2013, the Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative (NOVEC) commissioned a 50 MW wood waste biomass plant in South Boston, Virginia. In 2012, Miller-Coors Brewing also opened a biomass-based electricity plant in Elkton, Virginia, to dispose of brewing wastes. Finally, an industrial plant in Altavista switched from natural gas to biomass as its primary fuel and upgraded capacity to add wood solids to its fuel mix.
Rather than electricity, wood chips will soon be a North Carolina export, shipped to Europe through the port of Wilmington,
Increases in electricity generation from biomass in Georgia and Florida were each due primarily to a single new plant coming online. In Georgia, the 55 MW Piedmont Green Power plant began operation in 2013, fueled by urban wood waste and mill and logging residues. Georgia Power built the plant to improve its fuel diversity.
Florida opened one of the largest new biomass plants in the United States, the 102.5 MW Gainesville Renewable Energy Center. The plant began generating power commercially in December 2013, but performance has not been consistent, with two major shutdowns in 2015.
--The EIA’s Today in Energy with Cape Fear focus by Jim Brumm