Biomass backers argue for a bigger place in Georgia Power’s renewable energy portfolio

The Biomass for Georgia Coalition (BFGC), an ad hoc group of customers of Georgia Power, on June 24 told the Georgia Public Service Commission that biomass-fired power should get 100 MW of a 525-MW capacity allotment that the utility wants to allocate to wind and solar development.

The coalition’s membership consists of Weyerhaeuser, Rayonier, The Langdale Company, Allied Energy Services and Georgia Renewable Power LLC, along with several other unnamed supporters interested in biomass power. Members of the coalition represent various business interests in Georgia, some of which are served by Georgia Power. Georgia Power is a unit of Southern Co. (NYSE: SO).

The coalition members believes that Georgia’s forests and forest industry can be an integral part of Georgia Power’s 2016 Integrated Resource Planning (IRP), and help achieve greenhouse gas emission reductions through the use of renewable biomass energy. The utility’s acceptance of biomass energy can help encourage new investment in the states’ existing forest industry and growing biomass energy manufacturing sector – leading to more jobs, more economic impact in rural communities, and better stewardship of renewable, natural forest resources, the coalition argued.

It said that Georgia’s three current dedicated biomass electricity generating plants have a proven track record of baseload generation, feedstock supply and sourcing, and proven reliability. In addition, the pulp and paper industry already produces most of the energy that it uses in its processing facilities by burning biomass in the form of mill residuals of various types, and some of these mills provide electricity to the grid. Given the right environment, employing proven combined heat and power technology, other large wood users such as lumber and panel manufacturing facilities could become additional sources of renewable biomass-based electricity delivered to the grid, it said.

Said the June 24 coalition brief, filed in the ongoing IRP case: “We encourage the Public Service Commission (PSC) to consider the multitude of benefits that forest biomass can offer in the 2016 IRP. It is also important to recognize the vital relationship between a variety of healthy markets for trees and maintaining the beneficial land use of private working forests.  An emerging biomass energy market will likely play an important role in encouraging private landowner reforestation decisions in what are currently underutilized ‘wood baskets’ – those where annual tree growth dramatically exceed removals. Poor market conditions and low stumpage prices for trees can lead to land conversion to less environmentally friendly land uses. 

All of the 525 MW allotments for renewables in the IRP should not be exclusive to wind and solar, the coalition added. “The PSC should withhold 100 MW for Biomass in the event viable Biomass energy projects can be identified. If no viable Biomass projects can be identified within 2 years, the 100 MW would be released back to the pool. Biomass projects should bid against Biomass projects. The PSC should consider capacity payments for Biomass generation, as Biomass is base load and available 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.”

The coalition noted that in less than a decade, ten wood pellet plants and three biomass electricity generating plants have been built in the state. One new biomass power plant, of Green Power Solutions of Georgia LLC, began operations in 2015. In addition, several other companies are expanding biomass electricity plants in Georgia as part of a Georgia Power 2015 request for proposals (RFP).

Georgia Power on Jan. 29 filed its 2016 IRP with the Georgia PSC, which is something it has to file every three years and covers the next 20 years. As part of the filing, Georgia Power is requesting approval of its Renewable Energy Development Initiative, a program that will bring an additional 525 MW of renewable generation to the company’s portfolio and is expected to deliver energy savings for customers.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.