Oregon Energy Plan Offers Hope for Biomass Energy

– Bryce Gray, March 26, 2016, High Country News

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Photo: andrewsforest.oregonstate.edu

The wood-based biomass industry has fallen on hard times. Once a promising avenue for timber-dominated regions to diversify their economies, the industry is struggling to compete with plummeting natural gas prices or the more generous subsidies extended to other forms of renewable energy. Biomass facilities – which convert wood and other organic materials into electricity, heat or both – have shuttered across the nation.

Western states are no exception. Biomass-generated electricity costs nearly twice as much as power from natural gas and the California Biomass Energy Alliance reports that 40 percent of the state’s biomass facilities are now idle. Oregon – another state with tremendous biomass potential thanks to its timber industry – has also seen projects come to a halt. But Oregon’s recently released energy plan, which phases out coal power by 2030 and emphasizes renewable energy, could provide an opportunity for biomass to reassert itself.

Just a few years ago, there were about a dozen industrial-scale projects in the works in Oregon; most of them are on hold. At least six of the state’s 17 already existing facilities that use biomass to produce electricity and heat are idle, and others may go offline if they can’t reach new contracts with utilities. “I’ve seen, over the last five years, a real decline in project development,” says Marcus Kauffman, a biomass resource specialist with the Oregon Department of Forestry and co-chair of the Oregon Forest Biomass Working Group. “All of (those projects) have completely dried up.”

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