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FirstEnergy biomass plans backfire

In 2009 the owner and operator of the R.E Burger power plant FirstEnergy was to replace coal with woody biomass at the facility based in Shadyside, Ohio, US.

However a year later environmental and consumer-advocacy groups are demanding to know where the company will source its wood, as a vast amount will be required for burning. This figure is estimated to be around 3 million tonnes a year, almost double the 1.7 million tonnes of wood cut down by logging companies throughout Ohio.

Consumers are concerned that the transport costs of importing the wood will have a negative impact on the purchasing price and have urged the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to reject FirstEnergy’s request to officially name the Burger plant a renewable energy plant until the firm can name the type, source and cost of its new fuel. The company asked the state to name Burger a renewable facility to enable it to meet the state’s mandate that requires 12.5% of power to come from sustainable materials by 2025.

However company spokesman Mark Durbin has explained that FirstEnergy will not provide any answers until a contract to supply Burger with its new fuel has been signed. ‘We’re talking to various suppliers,’ he said. ‘It’s a very competitive process.’

The plant is expected to begin burning biomass by 2012, which would dramatically cut its 2008 emissions of 13,585 tonnes of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides and 1.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide as a result of burning 800,000 tonnes of coal every year.