States see benefit to funding biomass projects

By Kris Bevill
Two states recently announced plans to give money to biomass-based projects, stating that growth in renewable energy industries would mean growth for the state's economy, among other benefits.

In mid-November, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty unveiled a Green Jobs Investment Initiative, which he said if implemented would result in one of the biggest changes to the state's economy since the industrial revolution. His plan includes incentives that provide credits to state utilities toward their annual energy savings requirements if they produce or purchase methane, thus promoting the growth of methane projects throughout the state. A Green Job Opportunity Building Zones program was also part of the plan. The program would be a modified version of the state's current JOBZ program, implemented to entice new investments in the state by offering a multitude of tax exemptions. In this case, "green" businesses would be given preference.

In 2008, the Minnesota State Legislature established a Green Jobs Task Force to look into some of the same issues addressed by the governor. State Sen. Ellen Anderson, cochair of the task force, stressed her group is working separately from the governor. It plans to introduce similar recommendations to the legislature when it reconvenes in January.
Funding will be an issue, but both Anderson and the governor said a plan to stimulate the state's economy is necessary.

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Edward Rendell announced nearly $12 million in grant awards for clean energy projects, with more than $2 million given to biomass-based operations. The largest grant, totaling $1 million, was awarded to American Refining & Biochemical Inc. and will be used to build a torrefaction facility. The plant is expected to convert up to 180,000 tons of feedstocks annually into 60,000 tons of a product similar to coal. Wood and switchgrass have been torrefied by the company, and agricultural residues are being considered, as well. Those involved with the project believe it will be the first commercial-scale torrefaction facility in the country.