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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Xcel files application for largest biomass plant in Midwest

From a news release posted on WQOW TV (Eau Claire):

ASHLAND, Wis. (Press Release) - Following more than a year of study and planning, Xcel Energy announced it has filed an application for a Certificate of Authority with the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSCW) to install biomass gasification technology at its Bay Front Power Plant in Ashland. When completed, the project will convert the plant's remaining coal-fired unit to biomass gasification technology, allowing it to use 100 percent biomass in all three boilers and making it the largest biomass plant in the Midwest. Currently, two of the three operating units at Bay Front use biomass as their primary fuel to generate electricity.

The project, estimated at $58 million, will require additional biomass receiving and handling facilities at the plant, an external gasifier, minor modifications to the plant's remaining coal-fired boiler and an enhanced air quality control system. The total generation output of the plant is not expected to change significantly as a result of the project. . . .

The Bay Front Power Plant was originally constructed and began operation in 1916. In 1960, it operated five boilers and six turbines. Since then, two of the boilers, and three of the turbines, have been retired. The three remaining boilers feed into a combined steam header system that can support three turbine-generator sets. During a major plant improvement project completed in 1991, the plant was equipped with an upgraded air quality control system, which includes two gravel bed filters designed to remove more than 98 percent of particulate matter.

Last year, Xcel Energy installed NOx (nitrogen oxide) emission control equipment on the two boilers that primarily burn wood, allowing both to continue to operate into the foreseeable future. When evaluating various alternatives for the remaining boiler, which primarily burns coal, it was determined that expanding Bay Front as a biomass resource was preferred over incurring significant environmental compliance costs relating to the Clean Air Interstate Rule and regulations on mercury emissions. . . .

When complete, the project will reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides by more than 60 percent, sulfur dioxides by more than 80 percent and particulate matter by more than 80 percent. In addition, displacing coal with sustainably harvested biomass will also reduce net carbon dioxide emissions, contributing to the company and state of Wisconsin's carbon management goals.

The primary source of biomass at Bay Front is expected to be the lower quality, unused materials that are currently left in area forests following traditional harvests, such as treetops, logging slash, damaged trees, underutilized species, and the cull and mortality classed trees. Initial investigations conducted by Xcel Energy show more than ample supplies of this lower quality biomass within the area.

To ensure future biomass supplies are available on a reliable basis, Xcel Energy is working with the Wisconsin Office of Energy Independence, University of Wisconsin-Madison and local agricultural experts to explore the feasibility of developing biomass plantations and grower cooperatives.

"Xcel Energy has been a long-time leader in providing renewable energy from local sources to the citizens of Wisconsin," said Michael Vickerman, executive director, RENEW Wisconsin. Mark Redsten, executive director, Clean Wisconsin, agreed.

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