There is a very good article in the Akron Beacon Journal discussing the debate over the use of biomass as a replacement for coal.  Here is an excerpt from the beginning of the article (click here for full biomass article):

Burning Ohio trees at Burger sets fire to debate
Opponents are hot that FirstEnergy will get credits, question if state can produce enough fuel for power plant

By Bob Downing
Beacon Journal staff writer

Switching from dirty coal to clean wood at FirstEnergy Corp.’s R.E. Burger Power Plant will require millions of trees — year after year.  Where those trees will come from and new questions about whether the switch helps the environment have triggered objections from Ohio environmental and consumer-advocacy groups.

The dispute has brought Akron-based FirstEnergy’s application for renewable energy credits — a financial incentive to make the conversion — to a standstill at the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

While the article does a great job discussing the different view points, it does not cover one important aspect- Ohio desperately needs to diversify if energy generation.  Right now it relies almost 90% on coal. 

Coal is facing more and more stringent regulation.  These include:

  • Tighter caps on Nox and SO2 emissions in U.S. EPA’s proposed Transport Rule
  • Multi-pollutant legislative proposals in Congress
  • MACT standards for mercury reduction
  • Legislation and/or regulation of greenhouse gas emissions
  • Tighter waste disposal requirements

All of this new and potential regulation means the cost of energy production in Ohio will be escalating.  In addition, the prospects for significant added regulatory cost are great.  The challenge for Ohio is great given that it is a highly energy intensive State due to its population and manufacturing base. 

Similar to diversification in your stock portfolio, Ohio needs energy diversification.  The reality is there are not many sources of energy that can provide baseload power.  While wind farms and solar are clean and good investments, they do not produce significant power.  

Nuclear, biomass and natural gas are the current alternatives to coal for baseload power generation.  New nuclear capacity will take years to construct.  Natural gas has its own wild price fluctuations.  Which leaves biomass. 

Outside of greenhouse gas emissions, biomass is a cleaner fuel.  In addition, while  the need for large supplies of biomass fuel may leave wood as the only immediate option, that will change.  Once demand is created, the market will develop other alternatives. 

Energy policy means hard choices.  For those groups strongly opposing biomass, they must answer- if not coal, biomass or nuclear, then what is left as an option given the realities of current technology?