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Biomass Power Facilities Idle for Months

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One of biomass energy’s main selling points is that it’s a baseload source of energy available 24/7, unlike solar and wind. Despite these promises--and hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer subsidies, grants and loans--several biomass power facilities across the U.S. have been sitting idle for months at a time, thanks to fires, equipment failure, and competition from cheaper energy sources.

Eagle Valley Clean Energy – Gypsum, Colorado

Eagle Valley Clean Energy, an 11.5-megawatt biomass power facility in Gypsum, Colorado began operations in December 2013, only to have its conveyor belt catch fire in December 2014.

Despite assurances from facility spokespeople that they’d resume operations within a few months, the facility is still offline as of November 2015.

While Eagle Valley’s attorney recently said they’d be up and running again by the end of the year, the Town of Gypsum might not let that happen, with town officials pointing out that the facility had been operating without a required certificate of occupancy, according to Vail Daily.

Eagle Valley has received $40 million in loan guarantees from the USDA, a portion of an annual $12.5 million matching payment for feedstock transportation from the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (part of the Farm Bill), and a $250,000 biomass utilization grant.

Gainesville Renewable Energy Center – Gainesville, Florida

The Gainesville Renewable Energy Center (GREC), a 100-megawatt biomass power facility in Gainesville, Florida, started burning wood chips for electricity on December 2013.

In August 2015, a lightning strike caused the facility to shut down temporarily, and when it became operational again, Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) decided not to bring it back online. Instead, GRU has relied on power from Deerhaven Generating Station, a coal plant that is “more economic than GREC’s facility,” according to Margaret Crawford, GRU Communications Director.

GRU pays about $39 per megawatt for electricity from GREC, while GRU’s other facilities generate electricity between $22 and $36 per megawatt, according to the Gainesville Sun.

On November 4, Deerhaven shut down due to a leak in a steam-generating tube, forcing GRU to bring GREC back online temporarily. GREC was taken offline again on November 11, according to David Warm, Marketing and Communications for GRU. 

Nacogdoches Power – Nacogdoches Texas

Nacogdoches Power, a 100-megawatt biomass power facility owned by Southern Power Company in Nacogdoches, Texas, went online in June 2012, but was not operational for a total of 17 months, as of July 2015 (the most recent data by the Energy Information Administration).

Austin Energy purchases all of the power from the facility, which adds $2 a month to customers’ utility bills, according to the Statesman.

Austin Energy acknowledges the “disproportionate expense” of the facility, and doesn’t plan to extend the twenty year contract.

Aspen Biomass – Lufkin, Texas

Aspen Biomass, a 50-megawatt biomass power facility owned by NRG Energy Services in Lufkin, Texas came online in September 2011, sitting idle a total of 16 months over the next four years.

The facility shutdown was blamed on “market economics,” according to Biomass Magazine.

WE Energies – Rothschild, Wisconsin

WE Energies and Domtar Corp’s 50-megawatt biomass power facility opened in Rothschild, Wisconsin in November 2013.

After generating no electricity in October 2014, it was taken offline from December 2014 through May 2015 for repairs on the electrical generating steam turbine and leaks in the condenser tubes. During its first full year, it was operational only 16% of the time, according to the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. During this time, the facility used more energy than it generated.

“To run the plant would have been more costly than other options like running our natural gas plant or buying power on the market,” We Energies spokesman Brian Manthey said, according to Midwest Energy News.

The facility has reportedly been operational again since June 2015.