Colorado Power Plant to Co-Fire Biomass

Through a new public-private partnership in Colorado, an existing coal-fired power plant will soon begin co-firing locally harvested biomass in order to clean up the facility’s operations and to market the resulting clean energy certificates.

The Colorado Governor’s Office of Energy Management and Conservation (OEMC), Aquila and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced the new measures underway at the W.N. Clark Generating Station, owned by Aquila and located in Canon City, Colorado. Part of the facility’s usual coal supply will be replaced with biomass from local forest thinning operations. Replacing coal with biomass as a portion of the fuel mix reduces sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide emissions. Co-firing biomass with existing coal generation can be one of the most efficient and effective methods to integrate new renewable energy into the power grid. While renewable energy often evokes visions of high tech solar panels or sleek wind turbines, co-fired biomass plants are an especially effective form of renewable energy. Particularly in a rural state such as Colorado that boasts an abundance biomass resources from logging and other wood-related operations. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Biomass Program, when power producers have access to very low cost biomass supplies the choice to use biomass in the fuel mix enhances their competitiveness in the marketplace. This is particularly true in the near term for power companies choosing to co-fire biomass with coal to save fuel costs and earn emissions credits or credits for environmentally friendly electricity. Aquila recently received EcoPower certification for electricity produced from forest-derived biomass. The biomass is being co-fired with coal in the existing stoker system. Only that amount of power attributable to the biomass will be certified as EcoPower. Through that certification, Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) can be sold beyond the boundaries of a utility’s service area, expanding the green power market and making it possible for people anywhere to support green power options. The sale of forest RECs will help Aquila recover the additional costs associated with introducing this renewable fuel source. Biomass from forest thinning operations is more expensive than coal, due to comparatively high costs of transporting and processing the biomass to the power plant. “Aquila is creating a market for the waste materials,” said Rick Grice, executive director of OEMC. “Using the biomass at the power plant is an environmentally friendly alternative and transforms a traditional waste stream to a fuel source. The biomass used at Aquila consists of small wood chips that are a by-product of forest fire mitigation activities. The U.S. Forest Service, state and local governments, and landowners are conducting “forest thinning” operations to reduce the threat of wildfire. Thinning typically results in piles of slash and brush that, by necessity, must be burned in place as a cost-effective means of disposal.
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