When you think of utility-scale renewable energy, images of wind turbines or solar panels are probably the first to enter your mind, but what about a pile of wood chips? Woody biomass, sourced from forest products, sawdust and clean natural wood waste and pallets, is unique in that it is a dispatchable renewable energy source. Dispatchable energy sources are those that can be ramped up or shut down in a relatively short amount of time and are those we turn to when we need guaranteed power.
Throughout 2014, Colorado Springs Utilities will pilot a program to determine the most viable woody biomass/coal blend to add to our renewable energy portfolio in the future. This program is taking place at Martin Drake Power Plant using existing equipment originally designed to burn coal. The study will:
- the effects of the biomass on existing coal blending and generating equipment;
- track emissions;
- determine the maximum woody biomass/coal co-firing percentage utilizing existing equipment;
- determine the reliability of a woody biomass supply chain; and
- accurately determine costs for sustained renewable electric energy production.
Before wood chips can be burned at the Drake Power Plant, they must be ground to less than an inch in size. We have teamed up with a local supplier, Rocky Top Resources, who will provide 50 to 60 tons of wood chips, or biomass, a day. West Range Reclamation will provide additional biomass as required. In addition, Fort Carson will contribute its natural wood waste, further assisting its endeavors to become a Net Zero Energy and Waste Installation. In turn, Fort Carson will purchase a percentage of the energy generated in the program, saving landfill space, reducing emissions and costs.
The energy generated from this program will equal approximately two percent of our total electric output at Drake, which also burns coal and natural gas. With the addition of woody biomass, Drake is one of the few power plants in the nation that can burn three different types of fuel.
Environmental benefits of woody biomass
- Generates dispatchable renewable energy unlike wind and solar, which generates energy only when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining.
- Less emissions (sulfur dioxides, nitrogen oxide, mercury and particulates) than coal.
- Woody biomass is carbon neutral. If not burned, wood releases carbon dioxide as it decomposes.
- Less ash is produced compared to coal, reducing landfills.
Promotes healthy forests and reduces the risk of devastating fires.
- As a local product, the woody biomass does not have to be transported as far as coal sources and will lead to less coal being consumed.
- Provides a beneficial use for natural wood waste that otherwise would take up space in a landfill.