Mapping Out Power Capacity
Once a year, Biomass Magazine publishes an updated U.S. Biomass Power Map, offering a visual representation of electricity production throughout the U.S. from the combustion of solid biomass. Our team uses phone interviews, countless emails and hours of research including input from the Energy Information Agency (EIA) and the U.S. EPA, to verify the status of each plant. Information provided on the map must also meet certain predetermined criteria. To be included on the map, the power plants must have a minimum nameplate capacity of 1 MW, and utilize no less than 40 percent solid biomass in their annual fuel mix. The power plants on the map must also be equipped with the necessary connection hardware to supply electricity to the grid.
The newest version of the Biomass Power Map, mailed with the November issue of the magazine, shows the majority of biomass power plants are primarily located on the East and West Coasts. Among state-based capacity, Florida tops all other states at 878 MW, followed closely in second place by California with 831 MW. After the top two producing states, the generating capacity of biomass power among all other states drops considerably to 407 MW in Maine. At a regional level, the northeastern U.S. has the greatest concentration of biomass power plants with a total of 69 installations.
As the map indicates, an influential factor in the location of biomass power plants is the price of electricity in the area where the biomass power is sold. The cost of electricity in the top five biomass power producing states is relatively high for retail electricity costs compared to other states. Hawaii and Alaska rank first and third highest, respectively, for development potential, based on their state rates. The potential for the sector’s growth is not, however, limited to states that have high electricity prices. Oregon and Washington each feature relatively low retail prices for electricity compared to other states, ranking 37 and 48 for the cost of electricity, but each state also has a considerable presence of biomass power production, with a combined capacity of 544 MW.
Smaller plants dominate the biomass power industry, as the plant map shows. Nearly half of the 187 biomass power plants in the U.S. are under 25 MW in production capacity (Graph 1). As the size of the plants increase, the number of them decreases, leaving only 11 power plants with a production capacity of 75 MW or more. Yet, while smaller plants may predominate, the medium-sized facilities produce the majority of the electricity, as shown in Graph 2.
The average U.S. biomass power installation is 32 MW. And while the 100 MW capacities of the recently opened Nacogdoches Generating Facility in Sacul, Texas, and the Gainesville Renewable Energy Center in Florida might imply a trend of new facilities moving towards larger nameplates, the average for biomass power plants under construction is 40 MW.
Covanta Energy Corp. dominates production by a single company with 1.3 GW of capacity (Graph 3), primarily converting solid waste to electricity. The company not only owns numerous waste-to-energy facilities but also operates plants for other organizations. Wheelabrator Technologies Inc. has roughly half of Covanta’s capacity and is the second largest producer of biomass power. Like Covanta, Wheelabrator's primary feedstock is solid waste. The average plant converting solid-waste feedstock to energy produces 34 MW, while the average agriculture residue and wood fuel facilities produce at 43 and 29 MW, respectively.
The 2013 map exhibits both growth and the maturation of the sector by bringing larger plants online and pushing total existing production capacity to 5.9 GW. The map should be used as a tool in charting the sector’s path forward, or, as a roadmap showing vast tracts of the U.S. where biomass power does not exist. Many of these states and regions have significant quantities of fuel feedstocks, but do not currently have the appropriate pricing, regulation, or circumstances to warrant the development of biomass power facilities.
Author: Kolby Hoagland
Data and Content Manager, Biomass Magazine