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Biomass energy and its benefits

see also: Ohio biomass energy

Biomass is a substantial renewable resource that can be used as a fuel for producing electricity and other forms of energy. Biomass feedstock, or energy sources, are any organic matter available on a renewable basis for conversion to energy. Agricultural crops and residues, industrial wood and logging residues, farm animal wastes, and the organic portion of municipal waste are all biomass feedstock.

Biomass fuels, also known as biofuels, may be solid, liquid or gas and are derived from biomass feedstock. Biofuel technologies can efficiently transform the energy in biomass into transportation, heating and electricity generating fuels.

Biomass is a proven option for electricity generation. Biomass used in today's power plants includes wood residues, agricultural/farm residues, food processing residues (such as nut shells) and methane gas from landfills. In the future, farms cultivating energy crops, such as trees and grasses, could significantly expand the supply of biomass feedstock. Currently, there are over 7000 megawatts of biomass power capacity installed at more than 350 plants in the U.S. (DOE, NREL, 1998). These plants are owned by a diverse range of producers including the pulp and paper industry, wood manufacturing industry, electric utilities and independent power producers.

Economic benefits

Economic activity associated with biomass currently supports about 66,000 jobs in the U.S., most of which are in rural regions. It is predicted that by the year 2010, over 13,000 megawatts of biomass power could be installed, with over 40 percent of the fuel supplied from 4 million acres of energy crops and the remainder from biomass residues (DOE, NREL, 1998). This would support over 170,000 U.S. jobs and could significantly benefit rural economies.

Use of biofuels can reduce dependence on out-of-state and foreign energy sources, keeping energy dollars invested in Ohio's economy. Biomass energy crops can be a profitable alternative for farmers, which will complement, not compete with, existing crops and provide an additional source of income for the agricultural industry. Biomass energy crops may be grown on currently underutilized agricultural land. In addition to rural jobs, expanded biomass power deployment can create high skill, high value job opportunities for utility, power equipment and agricultural equipment industries.

Environmental benefits

  • Biomass fuels produce virtually no sulfur emissions, and help mitigate acid rain.
  • Biomass fuels "recycle" atmospheric carbon, minimizing global warming impacts since zero "net" carbon dioxide is emitted during biomass combustion, i.e. the amount of carbon dioxide emitted is equal to the amount absorbed from the atmosphere during the biomass growth phase.
  • The recycling of biomass wastes mitigates the need to create new landfills and extends the life of existing landfills.
  • Biomass combustion produces less ash than coal, and reduces ash disposal costs and landfill space requirements. The biomass ash can also be used as a soil amendment in farm land.
  • Perennial energy crops (grasses and trees) have distinctly lower environmental impacts than conventional farm crops. Energy crops require less fertilization and herbicides and provide greater vegetative cover throughout the year, providing protection against soil erosion and watershed quality deterioration, as well as improved wildlife cover.
  • Landfill gas-to-energy projects turn methane emissions from landfills into useful energy.

Biomass energy and green power terms

Green power: power generated from renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar, geothermal, small or micro hydro and various forms of biomass resources.

Green power marketing: provides market based choices for electricity consumers to purchase power from environmentally preferred sources. It has the potential to expand domestic markets for renewable energy by providing green power options in retail markets.

Consumers and green power: Surveys have shown that some customers have a preference and willingness to pay more, if necessary, for cleaner energy resources. Although renewable energy development has traditionally been limited by cost considerations, customer choice allows consumer preferences for cleaner energy sources to be reflected in market transactions.

Net metering:  Net metering is an arrangement under the Electric Restructuring Law in Ohio (see below) where customers who generate their own electricity can get a credit on their bill for any excess self-generated electricity that flows back into the utility's distribution system. For more information see the FAQ for net metering.

Distributed generation:  Interconnection checklist


Ohio's Electric Restructuring Law

Senate Bill 3, Ohio's electric restructuring law, allowed Ohio consumers to choose their electric supplier beginning in 2001. The environmental provisions of the electric restructuring law include:

  • Disclosure of environmental characteristics of power supplies to customers (Ohio Revised Code Section 4928.10).
  • A requirement that a customer generator must have access to backup electricity from its competitive electric generation service provider at a market rate (Section 4928.l5).
  • An Energy Efficiency Revolving Loan Fund for investing in energy efficiency for low-income housing and in products, technologies or services for residential, small commercial and small industrial businesses, local governments, educational institutions, not-for-profit or agricultural customers of an electric distribution utility or a participating municipal electric utility or electric cooperative in the state. The fund is administered by the Director of the Ohio Department of Development (Section 4928.62).
  • Retail electric service providers must develop a standard contract or tariff for net metering of customer generators that use as fuel either solar, wind, biomass, landfill gas or hydro power, or use a microturbine or fuel cell (Section 4928.67).