Xcel Energy seeks power from forest waste in Colorado

This was in the Denver Post business section today. here’s the link and below is an excerpt.

Xcel Energy wants to pursue a demonstration project that would deliver electricity made from forest waste, according to a filing made Monday to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.

The demonstration-scale biomass plant would convert dead trees and wood waste to an energy-rich gas in a process known as gasification. The produced gas would be ignited to spin turbines for power generation in the state.

Xcel said it will seek bids from independent power producers who would build the plant at a yet-to-be determined location.

In its filing to the PUC, Xcel said it would agree to buy up to two megawatts of generation for 10 years. Two megawatts serves the electricity needs of about 1,500 homes.

Colorado has an abundance of forest waste, resulting mostly from pine beetle-killed trees and drought. More than 6.6 million acres of Colorado forest have succumbed to beetle kill.

“Since 2007, Xcel Energy has been investigating small, forest biomass project opportunities,” said David Eves, president and chief executive of Public Service Co. of Colorado, an Xcel subsidiary. “Because the overall health of Colorado forests has degraded due to drought and infestation, there has been increasing interest among various stakeholders to pursue this type of demonstration project.”

One of the commenters asked why not convert directly… and linked to the Savannah River Cogen Plant site here.

8 thoughts on “Xcel Energy seeks power from forest waste in Colorado”

    • Larry, If only the world, economics and ecology were as simple as you describe. Fact is, a full-cost accounting of biomass shows little savings in money or emissions, compared with other fuel sources, and little benefit to the greater environment as a whole. Here’s some of our previous discussions about wood-burning biomass on this blog: https://ncfp.wordpress.com/?s=biomass

  1. Matthew… this is not everywhere, it’s dead lodgepole trees lying alongside roads otherwise to be burned in piles.

    What are the other fuel sources? Coal? Sierra Club had a major campaign against that. You could always read the litigation of Forest Service coal projects..
    Natural gas? Some would argue in Colorado that there are a lot of natural gas externalities (more on that next week)
    Of course, wind has birds..so I think we’re left with solar, which we can’t scale up at a very rapid rate to be 100%.

    Then when natural gas prices go through the floor, no one else looks very good price wise.

    I think the problem is when people talk about “biomass for energy” it’s everything and you can globalize many bad things about everything, whereas it’s really hard to see the downside if otherwise you would be burning logs in piles.

  2. The difference between burning biomass and coal or natural gas is that CO2 from biomass is not fossil CO2. We have an overabundance of fossil carbon in the atmosphere. Here’s what I wrote in an August 2010 essay in The Forestry Source:

    “Look at it this way: CO2 exists both in the biosphere (air, water, soil, plants, animals, and so on) and below the biosphere (fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas). The concentration of CO2 in the biosphere—in particular, in the atmosphere and oceans—has increased because we humans have transferred large amounts of fossil carbon to the biosphere, largely through the combustion of fossil fuels.

    “As we work toward greater energy efficiency and develop new carbon capture and storage technologies, one of our primary goals ought to be to slow that transfer of CO2.”


    • Similarly, some people like to discount the damage of non-fossil CO2 (and other GHG’s) that come from wildfires, simply because it doesn’t come from under the ground (except for the carbon that burns off from soils, due to excessive wildfire heat). Wood loses its carbon relatively quickly so, why not harvest some of it? If that wood burns in an intense wildfire, that carbon is shoved into levels in the atmosphere where plants cannot re-sequester it.

      And yes, it is OK to be skeptical about AGW while being against more use of “fossil carbon”. The atmosphere is loaded with ALL kinds of carbon but, once it is here, each atom is equal in the eye of physics. We know many ways of sequestering carbon but, it is probably costly to “re-fossilize” CO2. I fully believe that alternate power sources will save us from “death by car”. Is the world ready for super-cheap, super-safe free energy for all?

      Probably not. There’s no money in it! *smirk*

  3. Even if we could turn off the fossil CO2 spigot, we’d still have a high level of CO2 in the biosphere. But at we’d stop the flood. Yes, we’d still have to deal with CO2 in the atmosphere. However, with the use of biomass to offset fossil fuels, and using more wood for long-lived products that substitute for more-CO2-intensive ones (for example, using cross-laminated timbers for homes and even high-rise buildings, instead of steel and concrete), we can turn the down the flow from that spigot.

    FWIW, I drove through Fossil, Oregon, recently. Nice town, beautiful area. Know what the name of the gas station is? Why, Fossil Fuel, of course.



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