Everything’s Bigger in Texas, Including Biomass Incinerators

– by Josh Schlossberg, August 15, 2012, The Biomass Monitor

Baby back ribs aren’t the only things being cooked in Texas nowadays. With the Nacogdoches Generating Facility firing up for the first time in July—at 100 megawatts, it’s one of the largest biomass power incinerators in the U.S.—Texas will also be cooking a heck of a lot of trees. At least one million green tons of wood per year, to be sourced from whole trees, tree tops, limbs and sawmill residues within a 75-mile radius of Sacul, Texas, according to a fact sheet from owner and operator Southern Power.

Southern Power, a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Southern Company, purchased the yet-to-be-constructed facility from American Renewables in 2009. Southern Company also owns electric utilities in four states, including coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants, along with “the nation’s second largest solar photovoltaic plant,” in partnership with CNN founder Ted Turner, according to a company press release.

The Nacogdoches Generating Facility cost half a billion dollars to build, utilizes a bubbling fluidized-bed boiler, and will reportedly provide forty permanent jobs, according to Southern Company. In 2008, the company entered into a twenty-year Power Purchase Agreement for $2.3 billion with Austin Energy, owned by the City of Austin. At least one Austin City Councilor who voted in favor of the Power Purchase Agreement, Mike Martinez, regrets his decision, and said that if the vote came up again today, he would not vote in favor, according to the Austin Business Journal. The City Council was also criticized by the solar industry for prioritizing biomass incineration over solar power.

With another 50 megawatt biomass power incinerator operating in nearby Lufkin and several other Texas incinerators on the table, where in the arid state will these facilities find all the millions of tons of wood per year needed to keep chugging along over the coming decades?

The Nacogdoches biomass incinerator is located in the Piney Woods region, within a 75-mile radius (as the crow flies) of the Angelina, Davey Crockett and Sabine National Forests. The biomass industry has partnered with the U.S. Forest Service to open more National Forests to logging to fuel biomass incinerators. “In 2011, Texas experienced an exceptional drought, prolonged high winds, and record-setting temperatures” killing up to half a billion trees, according to the Texas Forest Service Sustainable Forestry chief Burl Carraway, quoted in a Reuters article. It remains to be seen what portion of the millions of green tons of wood per year needed to feed these incinerator will be sourced from our publicly-owned forests.

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