Charlie Beacom, manager for business origination of Duke Energy Generation Services, spoke to the Gilmer Rotary Club Tuesday.
He explained his company’s plans for utilizing the leftover residue from timber harvesting to generate power without injecting CO2 into the atmosphere, as happens with coal-powered plants.
Beacom, who lives in Shreveport, La. was introduced by Rotarian Wayne Arnold. who said of the speaker’s subject: “Exciting things are going to be happening in East Texas.”
During the day Tuesday, Beacom was accompanied by Ronnie Morrison, Upshur County economic developer, and Bill Patterson, member of the Gilmer Industrial Foundation board, as he looked at potential power plant sites in this county.
Beacom said the plant would require 70 acres, must be close to high-power transmission lines, and be located where there would be enough sustainable fuel within a 50-mile radius to provide for a power purchase agreement.
Duke Energy is the third largest electric utility company in the nation, he said. Last September, it became a 50-percent partner in ADAGE, a company started at the Clinton Global Initiative to provide clean, biopower energy solutions to U.S. electricity customers.
The other partner is the French company AREVA. Beacon said representatives of the French company are now checking out sites for possible biomass generating plants in Northern California, Washington, Oregon and Idaho.
Using slides, Beacom showed pictures that explained a biomass plant’s operation. Trucks would bring in the leftover materials from tree cutting, which, he said, amounts to 42 percent of the harvest.
An East Texas plant, expected to cost about $200 million, would create 400 temporary construction jobs, would employ 25-30 people at first, with an additional 100-150 jobs created indirectly, he added. A typical plant does not use a lot of water, he said, and is environmentally neutral, in that trees absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, and when they are burned, become a part of nature again.
ADAGE already has contracts with many large landowners to buy wood from local timber operations and other clean wood sources, Beacom said. Private landowners generally have someone managing their timber for them, he commented.
The company has had calls from the Houston area and other hurricane-hit areas, looking to market storm refuse, and other calls from those looking to thin their tree farms, he said.
Duke Energy is the third largest coal user in the U.S., and it also has wind farms in West Texas and Wyoming, the speaker said. The company has one biomass generating facility already operating in downtown St. Paul, Minn., he said.
ADAGE has located a biomass plant in Florida, but is now looking westward for places to offset the environmental effects of fossil fuel plants (natural gas as well as coal), he added. Coal is cheapest, he noted, but “has such a bad name.”
ADAGE does extensive study on the ground before locating a plant, Beacom pointed out. He said the company has “deep pockets” and good credit, so financing is not a problem.
Non-governmental entities such as the Nature Conservancy, Greenpeace, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Pew National Environmental Trust and the Natural Resources Defense Council all favor the biomass generating plants, Beacom said.
Each state has incentives for projects that will reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, and federal initiatives will also spur growth, he asserted. Now comprising 10 percent of the green energy market, biopower may grow by an additional 10 percent by 2025, Beacom predicted.
Biomass-generated power is available 24/7, compared to limited hours of wind and solar power, he pointed out.
Two other companies have received permits to build biomass energy generating plants, one at Lufkin and the other at Sacul in deep East Texas, according to a recent report on the tylerpaper.com website.
The same story quoted Mark Holtzapple, a professor of chemical engineering at Texas A&M University who specializes in biofuels, as saying that wood waste can generate carbon-neutral power because the amount of carbon released in burning is the same as that absorbed by trees as they grow.
Also, he said, the burning of wood waste releases very little, if any, sulfur, which is often found in the air around fossil fuel plants. Ash produced by the plant can be filtered and put back onto the land as fertilizer, he added.