Biomass power can prevent energy shortfall

Gary Melow and Larry Ward

Today is the fourth annual National Bioenergy Day — a day dedicated to shining a light on the many economic, infrastructural, and environmental benefits of bioenergy production in the U.S.

On this day we would like to have a conversation about Michigan’s energy future, and the important role that Michigan biomass power can and should play in a “no regrets” energy policy.

With the retirement of multiple aging coal power plants over the next several years, Michigan could face an energy capacity shortfall starting as soon as next year. Regulators at the Public Service Commission and officials at the Michigan Agency for Energy continue to warn the legislature of the significant consequences that will result from a failure to pass a comprehensive energy policy.

An energy capacity shortfall is unacceptable and indeed avoidable.

We need a Michigan-first energy policy that not only accounts for this impending loss in baseload capacity but makes Michigan a leader in reliable, cost-effective renewable energy.

Biomass power is produced from local resources, provides local jobs and supports local communities, giving new meaning to the phrase homegrown renewable energy. It does all this while helping to stabilize the electrical grid — especially in rural areas that need it most — which improves reliability for everyone in the state.

Biomass power is also cost-effective for ratepayers. In fact, the state’s independent biomass power producers have been operating for 30 years at the same cost as utility power, which puts no additional cost on Michigan ratepayers.

Better yet, biomass power is cost-competitive with traditional fossil fuels and other forms of renewable energy, but it supports more jobs per kilowatt hour than wind or solar; up to 3.5 full-time jobs per megawatt of generation capacity.

What truly sets biomass power apart though is its unique ability to produce and “store” electricity in the form of on-site renewable fuel, allowing electricity to reach Michigan homes and businesses when needed and on demand.

Among the many environmental benefits, bioenergy’s contributions to forest health and stewardship in particular are recognized by the U.S. Forest Service. USFS understands the immense role that biomass power can play in helping to reduce the risk of wildfire by providing a safe, affordable outlet for dead trees and other “fuel loads” in our Pure Michigan forests. Without the removal of this excess wood by biomass power facilities, the risk of forest fires that can inflict damage upon our natural resources and the communities that surround them would be significantly higher.

A true “no regrets” policy must utilize existing and future biomass power capacity to protect ratepayers from a capacity shortfall, all the while keeping energy costs low, supporting local business, and ensuring that Michigan residents will have electricity whenever they flip a switch.

Gary Melow is the director of Michigan Biomass. Larry Ward is the executive director of the Michigan Conservative Energy Forum.