Planet Gore

Not So Fast on Biomass

To follow up on Ed Craig’s posting of two reader responses to my item on Austin’s plans for a $2.3 billion, 100-MW biomass plant, the Austin American-Statesman has since urged Austin Energy to cool its jets:

Eagerness to acquire power from renewable energy sources isn’t cause for Austin Energy to rush into $2.3 billion contract that will be kept from public.

How would this affect monthly bills? Duncan [Austin Energy’s General Manager] offered a range on the impact on the fuel adjustment clause included in monthly bills, from a reduction of $1.50 to an increase of $2.50 for residential customers. Much of the difference depends on federal and state credits that might be available to subsidize biomass power projects like this one, he said.
There’s nothing about this project so critical that such a decision must be made now. The 30 percent benchmark is self-imposed, and it is not more important than giving thorough study to this deal.

The Statesman is correct: There is no need to rush this (if Austin does it at all — something I do not recommend, given the small size and enormous cost of the plant).

Here is an online comment from a Statesman reader, “scameron”:

This proposal does not pass the test of reasonableness on many accounts: hiding facts, little known NH/Bahamas front company with shallow credentials, an estimated cost per contract terms, 115 million per year for 100 megawatts at 90% availability works out to 14.7 cents per killowatt hour, An existing Texas supplier American Biorefining & Energy was not given a chance to bid by Austin Energy, yet their cost of generating power from biomass is around 4 cents per kilowatt hour, and sells power to utilities at 6 to 6.5 cents per kilowatt hour. This is more in line with what residential customers now pay. There’s the published report that removing forest floor refuse on 275,000 acres, the amount needed to fuel this plant, causes reforestation by lumber farmers/companies to be 50% reduced, and to recover that loss they’d have to put 100 pounds of fertilizer per acre or 13,750 tons of fertilizer on the ground! The wood chip specification calls for under 3 inch chips and under 50% moisture, which must require costly external mulching and drying of forest refuse, and it rains a lot in east TX. I believe Roger Duncan said for the same $2.3 billion over 20 years AE could install 6.5 times the amount of solar. 650 megawatts of solar at 35% availability is 227 megawatts, more than double the 100 megawatt biomass plant, and non-polluting. And solar and jobs could be in or near Austin where the power is needed, reducing the transmission cost and power losses. These are a few of the really good reasons to can this proposal, regroup and find better alternative energy solutions for Austin.

As an aside, my favorite sentence from the article:

Threatening higher prices if you don’t act right now too often is a sign that something’s not quite right, or at least not fully vetted.

Does the “Act now or else!” strategy remind anyone of the end-of-days warnings of global-warming alarmists?

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