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Biomass experts realize fossil fuels still king of the hill

A new, interactive map summarizing renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in Mississippi is available at www.mta.ms/biomass.

Biomass advocates agree that the United States will continue to depend on fossil fuels for bulk power but would like to see those fuels to be further offset and supplemented by alternate sources of energy.

It was with that premise that the Mississippi Biomass and Renewable Energy Council held its 10th-annual conference at Biloxi’s Beau Rivage casino where it celebrated “a decade of promoting biomass and renewable energy.”

Speakers addressed diverse topics including combined heat and power system applications, the importance of energy independence for national security, renewable crop development, Pontotoc’s Enerkem plant, geothermal systems benefits, natural gas opportunities, energy efficiency and net-metering policies for consumers.

Approximately 100 people from manufacturing, forestry, engineering, education, government, technology and utility sectors attended the event.

The Mississippi Biomass and Renewable Energy Council “strives to be an independent forum for information dissemination,” said group president Pete Weisenberger, a real estate professional in Flora. “We are a non-partisan, non-political forum. We don’t support any technology over another. We want to get it all on the table. Sound, peer-reviewed science in the free market will determine the winners.”

Formed as the Mississippi Biomass Council in 1998, the words “renewable energy” were added three years later to give the group a wider scope. Originally focused on technology, MBREC’s education mission has expanded to focus more on policy and the economics of various technologies.

Due to Mississippi’s vast agricultural resources, stakeholders recognize the critical role Mississippi can play in providing biomass feedstocks for a cleaner and more secure energy future. Mississippi is rich in woody biomass, as well as poultry litter, vegetable oils, solid waste and possibilities for dedicated energy crops, like sorghum, switchgrass and miscanthus.

MBREC board chair, Tamme Bufkin of Hattiesburg-based The Bufkin Company, is a lobbyist and consultant for the forestry industry and is excited about the economic opportunities that biomass creates for her clients.

“I think biomass is going to create additional markets for the forestry industry and landowners,” she said.

Renewable energy projects in Mississippi

The director of Strategic Biomass Solutions, Dr. Sumesh Arora, said that currently there are renewable energy projects underway in Mississippi that total $1 billion in investment and approximately 2,000 jobs.

Strategic Biomass Solutions, which is housed under the Mississippi Technology Alliance and partially funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, released its first “Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Report” at the conference. The report is the first source comprehensively cataloging more than 100 such energy projects in the state. Its interactive map can be found at www.mta.ms/biomass. (See inset.)

Regulatory policy conflict

Differences in opinion regarding regulatory policy for electric utility customers who desire to develop their own sources of renewable energy were also discussed.

Many promoters of self-generation for industrial and residential utility customers — such as combined heat and power (CHP) system advocates and solar panel enthusiasts, respectively — are quick to assert that regulated public utilities charge unfair interconnection fees that discourage or prevent would-be self-generators from connecting to the transmissions grid. Hence, the subject of net-metering.

Net metering programs enable customers to generate their own electricity and receive retail prices, or in some cases, premiums over retail price for excess power. While 41 states have established uniform net metering policies for utilities, Mississippi is one of the few that has not.

Isaac Panzarella of the U.S. Department of Energy Southeast Clean Energy Application Center in North Carolina said “the growth of CHP and biomass CHP depends greatly on state policy.” CHP is good for states that want to keep money in their states, use local resources, create jobs and bolster energy infrastructure, he said.

Both Entergy Mississippi and Mississippi Power have expressed concern to the Mississippi Public Service Commission about interconnecting customers being held responsible for paying their fair share of interconnection and also about safety issues.

Southern District Public Service Commissioner Leonard Bentz said, “This commissioner is for (net metering) without the avoided cost issue.” Utilities have to invest in transmissions lines, and self-generators should not be able to benefit from that energy highway and get away with not paying for those investment costs, he said.

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About Amy McCullough