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Biomass Plants Struggle with High Costs

Biomass furnaces, which burn waste from logging and sawmill activity to produce steam-powered electricity, often struggle with the high cost of their fuel supply, according to a report in The Spokesman-Review. The report centers on Avista Corp’s Kettle Falls furnace in Washington. Although the plant can produce enough power to light 40,000 homes, the high cost of grinding and transporting wood fiber waste to the plant can be prohibitively expensive.

Although the fuel isn’t in short supply, transportation costs can increase overhead to the point where the parent company will idle the furnace. Last year, Avista shuttered the plant for 10 weeks.

Despite the costs, interest in small biomass plants is growing in the Northwest, according to The Spokesman-Review, fueled by the prospect of cap-and-trade legislation and government subsidies that could make the process more cost competitive. Adage , a biopower joint venture between Duke Energy and AREVA, plans to build a 60-megawatt plant near the town of Shelton, Washington.

Meanwhile, smaller biomass furnaces are proving to be cost effective for facilities such as schools, prisons, and hospitals, which can reduce their utility costs by replacing oil-burning furnaces with those that burn biomass.

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