Biomass is a small yet important piece of our diverse energy mix. The energy from waste products – such as wood and agricultural waste and garbage – can be used to produce electricity. Wood waste can be burned as is or converted to a gas and burned in a boiler to produce heat for converting water to steam to run a generator. The same is true for garbage – it can be turned into refuse-derived fuel and burned in a power plant boiler. As garbage or animal waste decays in a landfill or agricultural operation, it produces methane gas. That methane gas can be used as a fuel, similar to natural gas, to produce electricity.
While using biomass to produce electricity provides a waste-management solution, it is generally done today on a smaller scale. This is because it is costly and requires a plentiful, steady fuel source, sometimes more than a single waste stream can produce. We operate in several locations where waste wood is plentiful, and we are participating in test projects for growing biomass crops.
We own and purchase about 195 megawatts of biomass generation on our systems, enough to power more than 140,000 average-size homes. All of the biomass plants that we own are former coal plants. In 1979, our Bay Front Generating Plant in Ashland, Wis., became the first investor-owned utility plant to consume waste wood to generate electricity.
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