By Gord Murray
June 26, 2016 - In its Climate Leadership Plan, the Government of Alberta will phase out coal power by 2030, replacing one-third with natural gas and two-thirds with renewables. Alberta also said that it intends to ensure that capital is not unnecessarily stranded.
By Gord Murray
The Wood Pellet Association of Canada (WPAC) believes this is a crucial opportunity to introduce biomass co-firing and dedicated firing in Alberta.
WPAC’s first step was to team up with Canadian Biomass Magazine (CBM) and the University of British Columbia’s Biomass and Bioenergy Research Group (UBC-BBRG) to host a co-firing workshop in Edmonton in May. The 125 attendees included power generators, biomass producers, sawmills, public and private forest managers, engineering companies, universities, and government. (Presentations are available to download from www.biomasscofiring.ca)
The audience was highly engaged, asking the presenters many questions and generating significant discussion.
Key things learned include:
- Large-scale biomass co-firing and dedicated firing have been used successfully in Europe, Asia, and Ontario to extend the life of coal power plants and reduce millions of tonnes of GHG emissions.
- The properties of wood are superior to those of agricultural-based biomass for use in pulverized coal (PC) boilers. Wood has lower content of ash, nitrogen, sulfur, chlorine, and abrasive particles; and has a higher ash fusion temperature. Wood combustion results in less boiler slagging and fouling, lower abrasion, better air emissions quality, and lower ash disposal than agricultural biomass.
- By converting to wood pellets, Alberta coal power generators could extend the life of their assets. This has the potential to save existing jobs and create new biomass supply chain jobs; to produce reliable base load power; to contribute to the renewable energy mix; and to reduce potential compensation payable to Alberta’s coal power generators since existing plants can continue operating.
- Wood pellets can easily substitute for coal in PC boilers.
- On a dollar per megawatt basis, wood pellet co-firing and direct firing are low-cost and easy to implement in comparison to natural gas and to other renewable options.
- Wood pellet co-firing rates can begin at very low proportions and gradually be increased over 10 or more years.
- Over the next five years, Alberta is projected to collect $9.6 billion in tax from Alberta’s GHG emitters. The government should invest some of this to implement biomass co-firing.
- Ontario Power Generation has successfully executed coal to biomass conversions using both white pellets and advanced (steam-treated) wood pellets. The white pellet conversion at Atikokan Generating Station employs many of the best practices demonstrated from similar conversions in Europe.
- The conversion of Thunder Bay GS Unit 3 using steam treated wood pellets is the first such project worldwide and has demonstrated the feasibility of a low capital cost solution.
- Replacing coal as a feedstock in as few as two Alberta PC boilers would create new demand for up to two million tonnes of wood pellets per year. Alberta and B.C. have ample wood supply to support this and such an initiative would support construction of five new wood pellet plants in Alberta.
- The U.K.’s Drax Power has successfully completed the world’s largest conversion of PC power units to biomass. This project supplies eight per cent of the U.K.’s electricity and has reduced GHG emissions by 86 per cent.
- Publicly, Alberta has identified wind and solar energy as the only two renewable electricity options. Biomass must also be included in Alberta’s renewable power mix. The advantage of biomass – unlike wind and solar – is that it can produce on demand. The wind doesn’t always blow, the sun doesn’t always shine, but biomass can be turned on and off at will. Moreover, biomass produces many more jobs per MW of electricity than wind or solar.
One workshop failure was that Alberta Electrical System Operator (AESO) did not attend. Alberta has tasked AESO to develop and implement a program to bring on new renewable generation capacity over the period to 2030. Alberta has requested that AESO provide recommendations in May 2016 and it is essential that biomass co-firing be included. We believe that AESO has a responsibility to fully evaluate all renewable options and it is distressing that they missed a key opportunity to learn about biomass co-firing.