Brian R. Hook
Developing new facilities to turn wood-waste
into energy is not cheap. But at a cost of nearly $90
million dollars each, GenPower LLC is developing three
plants in New England.
Tom Emero, general counsel and director
of renewable energy projects at the Needham, Massachusetts
developer of electrical generation facilities, said
that now is a good time to build the wood-waste-to-energy
plants thanks to a combination of market and government
“You’ve seen Europe do
it and now you’re seeing the United States do
it,” Emero said, referring to banning or restricting
the disposal of wood products that are recyclable. “It
is just a bulky material and takes up a lot of space.
There are other uses for it, so why put in landfills?”
Other incentives to turn wood-waste
into energy include energy credits in some states and
a small amount of federal production tax credits, Emero
said. Plus, he said the rising cost of fossil fuels
also plays a role. Wood-waste can be used to generate
electricity or processed heat. The wood for use as fuel
comes from a variety of sources, including land clearing
and tree trimming residue as well as from wood processing
waste and construction and demolition debris.
The plants under development by GenPower
are going to be in Athens, Maine, Hinsdale, New Hampshire
and near Fitchburg, Massachusetts. All three are going
to be 42-megawatt plants designed to burn 100 percent
construction and demolition debris. But Emero said the
plants would likely burn a mixture of construction and
demolition debris along with forest residue. Once completed,
GenPower plans to operate the three wood-waste-to-energy
plants. GenPower — which has developed facilities,
including hydro, gas and coal plants, representing 1,740
megawatts of electrical power from Maine to Arkansas
— usually is involved only in the development
stage. But many of its previous projects were in the
$300 million range, Emero said. He said the new wood-waste
facilities would fit nicely into GenPower’s portfolio.
The new facility in Athens, Maine is
the furthest along in development, Emero said. It is
going to be located at the site of a former wood-waste-to-energy
facility. Montreal-based Boralex Inc. sold that plant
to Atlanta-based Georgia-Pacific Corp. The giant paper
and paper products producer then moved the facility
lock-stock-and-barrel to one of its nearby paper mills.
There are currently nine stand-alone
wood-waste facilities in Maine that generate electricity
for the power-grid, according to the Independent Energy
Producers of Maine.
David Wilby, executive director of
the non-profit association in Augusta, said there are
also wood-waste facilities at paper mills throughout
the state that generate power for internal use.
Wilby said that wood-waste generation
in Maine has struggled in the past. At one point there
was over 20 independent plants in Maine. “They
couldn’t sell electricity to make a profit,”
Wilby said, citing a combination of long-term contracts
at high prices and the low costs of other fuels. “But
today, they are all either running or in one case they
are going to very soon,” he said.
State policies across New England have
had a bigger impact on the stability of the market than
the current high prices of other forms of fuels, Wilby
said. He said that in particular, the renewable portfolio
standards in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island
have played a big part. An RPS is a mandate that any
seller of electricity operating in that state must derive
a certain port of that electricity from renewable sources.
Each state defines what qualifies.
“States are saying to the supplier
that they’ve got to go out and get this particular
type of electricity as part of their portfolio,”
Wilby said. Maine has a RPS, but Wilby said the eligibility
is so broad it does not provide much incentive for generators.
Producers based in Maine, however, can sell renewable
energy certificates to customers in other New England