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COLUMBUS, OH – FirstEnergy Looks to Biomass Energy in Forests, Leaving Coal Behind

May 31, 2010

Ohio Consumer and Environmental Advocates (OCEA) seeks dismissal of FirstEnergy’s biomass proposal

First Energy Building and Akron Centre Plaza in Akron, Ohio. photo: DangApricot (courtesy of wikimedia commons)

FirstEnergy Corp. has failed to prove it meets the requirements to certify the R.E. Burger power plant as a renewable energy facility, the Ohio Consumer and Environmental Advocates (OCEA) said. The consumer groups filed a motion late yesterday asking the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) to dismiss the utility’s application.

FirstEnergy has not made sufficient basic information available that demonstrates the energy at the Burger plant would be generated through a renewable process. The OCEA argued FirstEnergy must include the details about the source and location of the biomass materials to be utilized; how the biomass sources will remain sustainable; the method of and distance the fuel will travel; and the net carbon emissions that will be generated before the Burger plant can be certified as a renewable energy facility.

“FirstEnergy is asking for a blank check to burn any kind of biomass at this facility,” said Will Reisinger, Ohio Environmental Council attorney. “It wants the PUCO to approve the project, but it doesn’t seem to know what it is going to burn, how it is going to get it, or whether it will be obtained in a sustainable, renewable manner.”

The OCEA argued the application should be dismissed after the PUCO agreed with the OCEA on multiple occasions that FirstEnergy did not meet its burden of proof. The PUCO indefinitely suspended both the automatic approval and the 60-day approval processes for renewable energy certification in the
case.

“FirstEnergy has failed to show what its source of fuel will be and that it will be cost effective,” Consumers’ Counsel Janine Migden-Ostrander said. “Without this information, the costs consumers would be required to pay could be quite significant.”

on World energy usage width chart.svg An attempt at showing world energy usage types with a bar graph. (Meant to replace w:Image:Cascading Pie charts.png by User:Mierlo, which uses a pie chart with misleading numbers like 41% for solar heating, when it's actually 41% of 9% of 14% = 0.5%.) Values are taken from the pie chart, which is originally from the data in REN21 2006 global status report on renewables and the BP 2006 Statistical review (most recent data available at http://www.bp.com/statisticalreview). chart:Omegatron (courtesy of wikimedia commons)

FirstEnergy has planned to switch its 312-megawatt coal-burning R.E. Burger power plant, located in Shadyside, Ohio, to biomass energy. The plant would require more than 3 million tons of green wood, or more than 10 million trees, annually to maintain the electric output FirstEnergy has said it plans to generate.

In a press release FirstEnergy stated, “The capital cost for retrofitting the Burger Plant to burn biomass is estimated to be approximately $200 million. Once the project is completed, units 4 and 5 of the Burger Plant could be capable of producing up to 312 megawatts (MW) of electricity – its current capacity. This is enough electricity to power approximately 190,000 homes, making it one of the largest biomass facilities in the U.S. based on generating capacity. And, biomass plants can operate continuously, providing power whenever it is needed.”

The Ohio logging industry currently harvests 1.7 million tons of wood per year, which is used for other applications. At this level, Ohio forest byproducts – bark, branches and leaves – are only able to sustain 38.5 megawatts of electricity, according to data obtained from the U.S. Forest Service. To sustain the Burger plant with biomass fuel, logging operations in Ohio would have to increase 276 percent above current levels.

FirstEnergy wants to retrofit the power plant as renewable energy to comply with Ohio’s electric energy law. The law requires the utility provide at least 12.5 percent of the electricity it sells as renewable energy by 2025.

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