Wood-Fired Plants Generate Violations

July 31, 2012

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), biomass is growing as a source of electricity -- its production is up 14 percent in the past 10 years. However, the technologies being used to burn the biomass are outdated (many were created during the Carter administration), and as a result have been fined for violating air-pollution or water-pollution standards, says the Wall Street Journal.

Despite the failure of companies to keep up with standards, they still receive funding from state and local governments to create and use biomass.

  • Biomass plants have received $700 million since 2009 in the form of subsidies from state and local governments.
  • Of this, $270 million came from the 2009 stimulus package signed by President Obama.
  • One of its provisions refunds 30 percent of an investment into renewable energy projects.
  • More than 30 states require utilities to buy a percentage of their energy from renewable sources (which includes biomass).
  • Yet of 107 biomass plants that were operating since the beginning of the year, 85 have been cited for violating pollution standards.

The state of California, which has become a major player in the biofuel industry, illustrates the problem of these plants.

  • There are 33 biomass plants located in California.
  • Madera power, located near Fresno, was cited for violations more than two dozen times from 2004 to 2009.
  • Madera power was still considered to promote renewable sources of energy, thus being eligible to receive nearly $6 million in subsidies from 2009 to 2011.

Newer biomass plants have also been shown to emit more sulfur, particulates and nitrogen oxides, despite being touted as clean energy. Opponents of biomass argue that subsidies being used to promote biomass are misdirected because biomass still emits carbon dioxide and pollutes the environment, as the citations by the EPA prove.

Many in the industry defend their use of biomass, citing the fact that the energy they produce promotes cleaner air and reduces carbon emissions. They argue that many factors, such as inconsistent fuel supply and the age of the plants, make it hard to keep up with emission standards.

Source: Justin Scheck and Ianthe Jeanne Dugan, "Wood-Fired Plants Generate Violations," Wall Street Journal, July 23, 2012.

For text:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303740704577524822063133842.html?mod=ITP_pageone_0

 

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