December 2015
Volume 6, Issue 12

Idle Some More? Biomass Facilities Offline for Months
(December 2015)

Biomass Power Facilities Idle for Months
- by Josh Schlossberg, The Biomass Monitor

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, 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.


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

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.

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.



Worse Than Fossil Fuels: Why Bioenergy Is Not Green
- by Breakthrough Institute

Bioenergy's role in the global economy is growing as governments promote renewable biofuels and biomass electricity to replace fossil fuels. But in recent years, mounting scientific evidence has shown that bioenergy is not, in fact, carbon-neutral: hidden emissions from land-use change actually make it worse than traditional fossil fuels. Given increasing competition for land and the need to reduce carbon emissions, Princeton Research Scholar Tim Searchinger argues that bioenergy is the wrong path.

The fundamental idea behind bioenergy is that it's carbon-neutral because it releases the carbon that plants absorb when they grow, and thus does not add carbon to the air. Why is this wrong?

SEARCHINGER: It's a common misunderstanding. Burning biomass of course emits carbon, just like burning fossil fuels. The assumption is that the plant growth to produce that biomass offsets the emissions. But the first requirement for a valid offset, whether for carbon or anything else, is that it is additional. If your employer wants to offset your overtime with vacation, they have to give you additional vacation, not just count the vacation you've already earned. Similarly, you can't count plant growth as an offset if it was occurring anyway. Plant growth can only offset energy emissions if it is additional. Counting plants that would grow anyway is a form of double-counting.

Can you explain more what you mean by double-counting? Plants regrow, so why doesn't that make them carbon-neutral?

SEARCHINGER:Your paycheck provides a good analogy. Say you get paid every two weeks. You spend your paycheck, and the good news is you'll get your next paycheck in another two weeks. Ok, so what if I say, "Give me your paycheck. It's not going to cost you anything because you'll get another paycheck in two weeks." Of course, unless you are pretty foolish, you are not going to give me your paycheck because you're using your paycheck to pay rent, buy food, and perhaps store some money in the bank. Giving me your check therefore comes at a high cost.

It's the same with plant growth and the carbon it absorbs. We use these plants and their carbon for food, housing, or as forests, which are like a carbon bank. The only way for you to get richer in money is to get a bigger paycheck, and the only way to get richer in carbon is to produce more plant growth. Just using plants differently (as in the case of bioenergy) sacrifices using them for another purpose. That's the fundamental intuitive error people make when it comes to bioenergy.



Desperate Environmentalism
- by Joshua Galperin, Los Angeles Times

Seeking any conceivable path forward, many young leaders are exchanging their sympathy for the victims of environmental damage for the concerns of the regulated community. They turn away from enforceability-based approaches and promote more conservative techniques that they hope will impress and persuade reticent and cynical policymakers and power brokers.

If this is environmentalism at all, it is "desperate environmentalism," characterized not by awe, enthusiasm and enjoyment of nature but by appeasement. It relies on utilitarian efficiencies, cost-benefit analyses, private sector indulgences and anthropocentric divvying of natural resources. It champions voluntary commitments, tweaks to corporate supply chains, protection not of the last great places on Earth but of those places that yield profit or services. From market-friendly cap-and-trade to profit-driven corporate social responsibility, desperate environmentalists angle for the least-bad of the worst options rather than the robust and enforceable safeguards that once defined the movement.

At best, the desperate form of environmentalism is a greyhound chasing a rabbit lure futilely around the track. At worst it is the ratcheting of individually good policies into a sweeping, embedded ideology from which the movement cannot return.


The Biomass Monitor is the nation's leading publication investigating the whole story on bioenergy, biomass, and biofuels. We accept submissions at thebiomassmonitor AT


Josh Schlossberg, Mike Ewall, and Samantha Chirillo

Editors, The Biomass Monitor

Cartoon: Clay Butler

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- by Josh Schlossberg, Editor

Biomass energy, like all forms of energy, has its pros and cons. While industry claims of environmental and health-friendliness have been disputed by scientists and biomass opponents, the one benefit that has gone uncontested is biomass energy's ability to provide constant baseload power, unlike intermittent solar and wind.

However, an investigation by The Biomass Monitor has discovered that several of the most recently constructed biomass power facilities in the U.S. have been sitting idle for months at a time, belying industry's claims of reliability. While, in many cases, the facilities have been taken offline due to an inability to compete with the lower prices of natural gas or coal, other facilities had to shut down due to equipment failures and fire damage.

No matter your take on bioenergy, it's worthwhile to assess the track record of existing biomass facilities before encouraging the construction of any new ones; with a close look revealing hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer subsidies spent for idle power facilities.

There's no question that the fracking bubble has lowered the price of natural gas to the point that biomass energy just can't compete. But even before the gas glut, biomass energy had been one of the most expensive kinds of energy to produce, more costly than nuclear power [none of this is to suggest support for polluting fossil fuels or risky nuclear power].

And while solar and wind still cost more than biomass energy, their prices are dropping fast. Meanwhile, competition for a limited wood source by lumber mills, mulch companies, wood stove users, biomass heating facilities, and cellulosic ethanol refineries, is making biomass energy even more expensive.



Top 10 Bioenergy Stories in the News

Follow The Biomass Monitor on Facebook and Twitter for daily bioenergy updates.

1. Covanta Incinerator Exceeds Limits for Dioxin

2. 500-Megawatt Coal-Fired Plant in Oregon to Switch to Biomass?

3. New Hampshire Biomass Facility Explodes, Catches Fire

4. Tire Incinerator Proposed for Plainview, Texas

5. $30,000 in Air Quality Fines for California Biomass Facility

6. Biofuel Refineries Planned for Ohio, Indiana, Michigan

7. Crop Residue Vital for Soil

8. EPA Investigates Benefits of Corn Ethanol

9. How Gas-Guzzling Americans Are Aiding the Call for More Biofuels

10. Cookstoves Still Dirty



Gainesville's Ongoing Biomass Controversy

In December 2013, the Gainesville Renewable Energy Center (GREC), a 100-megawatt wood-burning biomass power facility, came online in Gainesville, Florida, despite fierce local opposition.

Since then, nearly non-stop controversy has raged, ranging from noise complaints, to nearly $1 million in overpayments from the local utility company, Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU), to the facility sitting idle after GRU finally refused to purchase the expensive electricity.

Join The Biomass Monitor on Thursday, December 17 @ 2 pm PT / 3 pm MT / 4 pm CT / 5 pm ET, where Gainesville attorney Ray Washington will recap the history of one of the U.S.'s largest--and most controversial--biomass facilities.

RSVP on Facebookand email thebiomassmonitor [AT] for call in number.

Listentothe audio file for November's call, "An On-the-Ground Look At Logging for Bioenergy."