Biomass Is Coming to Georgia
While GreenLaw is working to stop any new dirty coal-fired power plants from being built in Georgia, we know we must be smart about what replaces burning coal to obtain energy for residential, industrial and commercial use. The best and most cost effective alternative “fuel” is to obtain greater efficiency from the energy we already produce. From changing the way we heat and cool buildings to adopting new manufacturing processes and consumer products, energy efficiency is critical to our ability to meet Georgia’s future energy needs.
We also know, however, that Georgia has tremendous potential to produce energy from biomass fuels, such as wood residue from our plentiful forest products industry. Georgia ranks second in the U.S. in private forest lands. The significant energy potential from burning biological products must be balanced with adequate controls on the chemical by-products from this process, including the production of carbon dioxide and other pollutants.
In order to educate ourselves and our colleagues in the environmental and clean energy community, GreenLaw took the lead role in bringing together organizations from across the state in November to evaluate biomass production in Georgia. “Biomass” is a broad term that may include woody residues, agricultural byproducts, industrial waste, or animal waste. Several utility companies and manufacturers have taken steps toward replacing coal with various biomass fuels. The most significant is Georgia Power’s plan to convert its 164-megawatt coal-fired power Plant Mitchell Unit 3, located near Albany, to a 96-megawatt, 100-percent wood-fired biomass plant, creating what will be the largest biomass facility in the nation. The reasons for the change are not just environmental. According to the U.S. DOE, the price of coal went up from about $30 per ton in 2000 to $150 per ton in September 2008. Also, although there are no renewable production tax credits in place in Georgia, the purchase of biomass fuel is exempt from sales tax, whereas natural gas and coal are not.
While biomass offers a potential solution, as with any emerging technology, it must be thoroughly examined before we sign off on biomass as the answer for our future energy growth, and this is particularly true given that no two biomass projects are alike! One project might burn discarded woody debris using the latest technology with the end result that it is carbon neutral; another may use inefficient technologies and even allow for the use of coal that would actually increase global warming gases.
GreenLaw is committed to helping communities across the state to monitor new plants as they are proposed to ensure that their designs meet the principles of cleaner energy that their builders espouse. The group will re-convene in January 2010 for further consideration of these complex issues. For more information, please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.