Biomass fueling Virginia

Photo from Creative Commons.

A few Dominion Virginia Power plants are being reformatted to run on renewable biomass. This conversion will allow the plants to create cleaner, more efficient energy for Virginians.

The three Dominion plants set to be reworked are the Southampton, Altavista and Hopewell plants. Two of these plants, Southampton and Hopewell, have opted to use Enviva wood waste as a means to produce the 50 kw of power expected to be made as a result of the conversion. This is a drop of 13 kw in their current output power.

Though biomass produces less power, it also produces fewer byproducts. With coal-fired plants, companies had to worry about scrubbing toxic components out of smoke stacks. Some of these toxic components, such as sulfur dioxide and mercury, along with other particulates released by coal-fired plants, lower air quality and are a health concern for residents near the plants.

A Dominion power plant in Virginia. Photo from Creative Commons.

Enviva wood chips, expected to be used in the Southampton and Hopewell plants, are a renewable fuel source. Enviva’s biomass wood chips make use of bark and tree limbs from responsibly harvested trees. This is not always the case. Some of this renewable fuel source is created through the byproduct of paper and wood mills. The wood chips from the mills are compacted into pellets, which then burn at very high temperatures, making them ideal to turn power turbines and produce energy for Virginia.

This move to use biomass as a fuel source is part of Dominion’s strategy to comply with the voluntary regulations encouraged by the state of Virginia. The voluntary regulations are aimed at getting 15% of Virginia’s overall power from renewable resources by 2025. This would decrease the amount of pollution and encourage sustainable power for the future.

Biomass being used to power plants has been slow to catch on; while there are several plants across the nation that use this form of power production, the vast majority remain coal powered plants. Biomass-powered plants are a novelty, even among those who source their own power. While this form of renewable energy has taken off slower than wind power or solar power, it is a cheaper alternative to those existing methods. The conversion of a coal-fired plant to a biomass-powered plants is relatively cheap and simple.

Wood biomass. Photo from Creative Commons.

It will be interesting to see if biomass becomes the energy of the future. Every day there seems to be more effort put into renewable fuel sources. As cheaper and more practical sources become more common, they will be the building blocks for all-inclusive renewable energy to be more than just a dream.