Solutions In Place

But Shallow Commitment

Three news items in this issue especially caught our interest, as they’re all related in some sense. One is the purchase by the city of Austin, Texas of the Nacogdoches wood biomass 100-plus MW electricity plant that was started up in 2012 by the developers, eventually sold to Southern Power, and which since then has run intermittently at best, as competing and low fossil fuel costs (hello, gas) rendered the plant’s operation not in the best interests of Southern Power (at least that’s how Southern Power viewed it). The city recently purchased it to reduce its considerable monetary obligation over the original 20-year contracted power purchase agreement. The purchase cost to the city: $460 million.

If you’re thinking you’ve heard this story before, well you have in a way. About the same time, the same developers built and started up a similar MW plant in Gainesville, Fla. But Gainesville Regional Utilities ran into the same issues with competing fossil fuels, and so this plant ran intermittently at best as well while GRE was obligated to pay serious dollars to the developers over a 30-year PPA. Alas in late 2017 the city of Gainesville bought the plant from the developers for $750 million to reduce its perhaps-double-that-amount debt obligation within the PPA.

While Austin considers what to do with the Nacogdoches facility, the city of Gainesville has managed to get the now-named Deerhaven Renewable plant into real-operation mode.

Enter John Keppler, CEO of the world’s largest industrial wood pellet producer, Enviva, with a column in a Richmond newspaper endorsing, of course, renewable energy, and specifically wood biomass energy as the only renewable energy that can run round-the-clock, compared to the intermittent nature of wind and solar.

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From Left: David Abbott, Senior Associate Editor; Dan Shell, Managing Editor; Jessica Johnson, Associate Editor; Rich Donnell, Editor-in-Chief

Most importantly, Keppler says, the majority of Americans wants renewable fed electricity because the notion of climate change is truly beginning to cause concern. “Replacing fossil fuels with wood biomass should be part of our approach to preventing catastrophic climate change,” Keppler says, while referencing a study that points to extreme weather events, rising seas and risks to water supplies if global temperatures creep upward. While many oldtimers may scoff at the thought, have you talked to your young adult children lately? They’re concerned.

About the same time as Keppler’s column, the Committee on Climate Change in the United Kingdom comes out with a study that says the UK can end its contribution to global warming within 30 years, reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero, through the use of renewable fuels and various technologies that currently exist.

Which brings this editorial back around to the front, and the two extremely expensive U.S. biomass power facilities left fluttering in the wind for many years due, when it gets right down to it, a lackadaisical commitment to renewable energy by the U.S. government, brought on by overpowering traditional fossil fuel energy interests.

In the meantime, much of the U.S. wood biomass fuel that Keppler refers to continues to be shipped overseas to foreign electricity plants to address the deeper commitment of Europe to renewable energy.