Advantages of biomass energy
Biomass energy is increasingly popular as an alternative energy source for a variety of reasons:
- It is widely available.
- It is a renewable resource, when it is sustainably used and managed.
- It results in less waste being sent to landfills. Burning unusable waste materials such as bark, construction wastes and tree clippings helps to reduce the pressure to expand local landfill sites while generating useful energy.
- It can help provide answers to the climate change issue. Using biomass energy does not increase atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, a primary greenhouse gas, because of the cycles of regrowth for plants and trees. The use of biomass can also decrease the amount of methane, another greenhouse gas, which is emitted from decaying organic matter.
- It can be converted into several forms of energy. For example, wood can be processed and converted to gas. Landfills can produce methane, and corn, wheat and other materials can be used to manufacture liquid fuel ethanol.
Promoting biomass energy
A number of important initiatives are under way at government, utility and industry levels to encourage the development of biomass energy in Canada.
Government policies and incentives can play an important role in encouraging the adoption of biomass energy. These can take the form of:
- research programs to develop the potential of biomass energy technologies
- investment subsidies (such as grants and loans) to developers to support the capital cost of biomass power plants
- renewable portfolio standards that require utilities and retailers to provide a certain portion of their power and energy sales from renewable sources such as biomass
- procurement of new generation from renewable energy sources for government facilities
The Canadian government established the Ethanol Expansion Program, which offered $100 million in funding toward ethanol development facilities across the country. provided contributions, with repayment terms, toward the construction financing of new or expansion fuel ethanol production facilities in Canada. These plants are now built and are producing ethanol at a collective nameplate capacity of approximately 1 billion litres per year.
Other federal measures include the CANMET Energy Technology Centre, which assists the development of green power technologies in Canada. Much of the centre's effort is focused on the development of biofuels, including the production of ethanol from forestry and agricultural wastes.
Provincial governments are also taking actions to promote biomass as part of their generation mix. Quebec, for example, launched a program for wood bioenergy followed by a call for 125 MW power in 2008. The province allocated $150 million over three years to convert heavy oil heating systems to wood biomass
Several utilities have started to invest in renewable energy, developing or purchasing biomass generation to supplement their power supplies. In Alberta, for example, EPCOR purchases green power generated from various sources including biomass. Manitoba Hydro is studying the potential for electricity generation from agricultural wastes. And BC Hydro has set a voluntary goal of generating 93 per cent of all its electricity through green energy generated from resources such as biomass.
A growing number of utilities are also marketing and selling renewable power to consumers through green power marketing and green pricing — utility-sponsored programs that allow electricity consumers to support the development of renewable energy resources. These programs could increase the future use of biomass.
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