Biomass Power Plants Struggle Amid Labor Costs and Controversy Over Their ‘Greenness’. By Jim Carlton, WSJ, 10/18/10. “Biomass power costs more to produce than power derived from fossil fuels, largely because it requires more labor to chip up wood and truck it to plants, industry executives say. They argue that unless the U.S. adopts a national renewable-energy policy requiring utilities to obtain a certain percentage of their power from renewable sources such as biomass, the industry will continue to struggle… But also threatening the industry's growth are concerns that biomass power isn't as ‘green’ as supporters say it is.

“Backers say biomass power is a carbon-neutral form of energy: The trees that feed biomass plants sequester carbon when they are growing, offsetting the carbon that's released when they are burned for fuel. But some environmental groups have complained that biomass plants spew too much pollution into the air, while others worry that an expansion of biomass energy could lead to excessive logging, claims the industry denies. Partly driven by those concerns, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources on Sept. 17 proposed a rule requiring that biomass incinerators become 60% more efficient to qualify as a renewable resource. If adopted, industry executives say, the rule could cripple biomass production in Massachusetts and spread to other states…

“In the meantime, the high cost of operating biomass plants continues to constrain the market. In California, for example, 61 plants were built from 1980 to 1992, when utilities were willing to pay high prices for biomass power because they expected the cost of energy from conventional sources to soar more than it did. When the original contracts began expiring in the late 1990s, prices were reset so low that only 29 plants survived, says Phil Reese, chairman of the California Biomass Energy Alliance.”

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