Biomass electricity generation in the U.S. grew by 8 TWh in the last five years, according to a report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). The growth occurred across all sectors, expanding from 56 TWh in 2010 to 64 TWh in 2015. Last year, biomass electricity generation accounted for 11.3 percent of renewable generation and 1.6 percent of total generation in the United States.
Much of the growth in biomass electricity generation took place in southern states like Virginia, Florida, and Georgia, the report said. The EIA attributes this growth to “ample forest resources, generally poor wind resources, and relatively unfavorable solar resources (compared to the Southwest)”.
Nearly half of biomass electricity generation in 2015 occurred at industrial facilities outside the power generation sector, including pulp and paper mills. Within the power generation sector, biomass accounted for 6.3 percent of renewable electricity and 0.8 percent of total U.S. generation.
Many power generation facilities co-fired biomass with another energy source, using biomass to displace more traditional fuels.
Virginia has a statewide program to convert coal plants to biomass, with several facilities having already converted in 2013, the report noted. Dominion Power has converted three 51-MW plants to biomass as part of its commitment to Virginia’s voluntary goal of renewably generating 15 percent of its power by 2025.
In Georgia, the 55-MW Piedmont Green Power plant began operation in 2013 and burns urban wood waste and logging residues to improve fuel diversity.
Florida opened one of the largest new biomass power plant in the United States. The 102.5-MW Gainesville Renewable Energy Center began generating power in December 2013, but faced two major shutdowns in 2015.
The report also noted the growth of biomass in the West, which increased biomass electricity generation by 15 percent in the study’s five-year period. Most of this growth comes from a few large biomass plants in California which are helping that state meet its renewable energy targets.