OPG has eye on the future - Nanticoke unveils biomass project

TIMES-REFORMER: Daniel Pearce - May 3, 2008

If the province wants its coal-fired power stations to burn organic material such as wood and plant matter, Ontario Power Generation will be ready, officials said here yesterday.

"We're testing to prove the potential," Jim Twomey, executive vice-president of fossil for OPG, said at the official launch of a biomass project at the Nanticoke Generating Station. "Our objective is to be ready should it be needed."

Local politicians, community leaders, and media were given a look yesterday morning at the latest addition to Nanticoke: two green-coloured silos that take in the castoffs from the wheat milling process and mix it with coal.

It creates a burn of 80 per cent coal and 20 per cent of what's called "wheat seconds." The same amount of greenhouse gases comes out of the smokestack as if just coal was used.

But biomass is considered to be environmentally "neutral" because the carbon that is released in the air is recaptured in short order by other wheat plants, or trees, which in turn are burned for power.

"You're recycling the same CO2," Twomey explained.

The two silos represent only a small fraction of the total output at Nanticoke, which supplies about 14 per cent of the province's electricity demand. OPG is experimenting at its other three coal-fired plants as well. Atikokan, for example, is burning wood pellets.

Ontario's coal plants have been slated to close by 2014 because of the greenhouse gasses they emit.

While biomass can cut their emissions, it faces other "challenges," Twomey acknowledged.

It's more expensive than coal and the "infrastructure" needed for transporting and storing wood pellets or wheat seconds is lacking, he said.

What's needed, Twomey said, is "a partnership of government, industry, and generators . . . Public policy has to be there, it has to be endorsed, it has to be encouraged."

Biomass is used extensively in Europe, especially in the Netherlands, the meeting was told.

"We do see biomass as a big part of the future for fossil," said Cara Clairman, vice-president of sustainable development for OPG.

Area municipal officials have been concerned about the potential loss of Nanticoke since the McGuinty government announced in 2003 it intended to close the province's coal plants.

Nanticoke employs 600 people in well-paying jobs and pays millions in property taxes.

"It's good to diversify," Haldimand Mayor Marie Trainer told the gathering. "We don't know what the future holds."

Sylvia Kovesfalvi, spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Energy, said the government "remains committed to stop using coal by 2014."

"Coal-firing with biomass may help reduce greenhouse gasses," she added. "It needs to be investigated further."

Article ID# 1055634

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