Jason Barton

Professional Information and Energy News

UW biomass power plant a gamble for state

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On one hand, the technology the University of Wisconsin is using isn’t as efficient as fossil fuels, so we shouldn’t yet be deploying it on such a large scale. On the other hand, it’s very difficult to increase the efficiency of these renewable fuel technologies on an efficient scale until the investments are made to deploy it, since only then can we see how it needs to be improved. Since we’re fairly confident that the coal and natural gas replaced by these technologies will run out within the next century, perhaps it’s time to invest in biomass, biofuels, and other renewables. I’m not sure, so I’ll sit on the fence for now and continue to argue most strenuously in favor  of energy efficiency.

This article discusses similar technologies as those in another article posted earlier today.

There is also a background article on this UW story here.

By Lee Bergquist and Thomas Content of the Journal Sentinel

Posted: Jan. 19, 2010

A state-funded, $250 million project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison aims to convert a coal-fired power plant on campus to one that primarily burns biomass such as tree trimmings and crops, ideally becoming a model for how the state can reduce its carbon output and its dependence on fossil fuels.

But the massive venture – accounting for nearly one-fifth of the state’s capital budget during the 2009-’11 budget period – faces considerable hurdles. Among them:

• Upfront construction costs will be higher than other alternatives that were considered.

• No infrastructure exists to process the eclectic mix of fuels the plant would burn.

• The plant’s surplus electricity will be sold into a regional market already awash in excess power.


And because of the economic benefits that will accrue to farmers and other local suppliers, state officials believe biomass power plants can help stimulate the market for homegrown fuels.

“We are not just building a power plant,” said David Helbach, a former utility executive and administrator of the Division of State Facilities. “We are trying to jump-start the biofuels market.”

Read the entire article here.