Austin is building a biomass plant, and in traditional Texas fashion, it’s huge. The city of Austin approved a $2.3 billion purchasing agreement to buy all the energy produced by a 100 MW facility that will be up and running sometime around 2012 in Sacul, Texas. 100 MW is pretty dang big, beating out Hawaii’s biomass plant by 76 MW.
The plant will utilize wood waste from logging and mill operations, urban tree trimming and shipping pallets. But there’s a bit of a catch that may throw a wrench in the works before the 20-year purchase agreement is up. The plant is going to require about a million tons of fuel per year, which is fine since there are about 2 million tons available within a 75 mile radius of the plant. However, there are other folks who want to start similar plants, and so there may not be enough local wood waste to go around. This plant might end up putting a cap on the number of similar plants that can be built, or there might be some issues coming up regarding access to wood waste.
As far as the burning of wood waste goes, the plant plans to be carbon neutral since the amount of carbon released is balanced by the carbon sequestered by trees that are growing…so they say. There are some logistical details about that fact I’m curious to find out about.
The cost of Austin Energy’s purchase is going to be off-set by the projection that natural gas will be more expensive by the time the plant is online, so customers may ultimately save a little money. We’ll see how all this works out, but Texas is definitely an interesting place to keep an eye on as far as renewable power is concerned.