PGE tests biomass process for Boardman
By Lee van der Voo, Sustainable Business Oregon
Sustainable Business Oregon
Portland General Electric has teamed with researchers from Washington and Oregon to study how a fast-growing grass could serve as fuel for the utility’s controversial coal-fired power plant in Boardman, if the plant were converted to biomass.
It's one of a handful of possibilities facing the 585-megawatt capacity plant, which burns 2.5 million tons of coal annually and produces enough electricity to power 250,000 homes. The plant is responsible for 15 percent of power production for customers of PGE, but has been under fire for pollution.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is poised to mandate new emission controls at the plant, but PGE is aiming to reduce the cost of compliance — and future uncertainty about the cost of carbon regulation related to coal burning — by closing the plant or converting it to other uses over the next 10 to 30 years.
Even while PGE and the DEQ are sniping over the details of the plan to stop burning coal at Boardman, officials from PGE are working closely with scientists at Oregon and Washington state universities grow test crops of a fast-growing cane grass called Arundo Donax which could meet future fuel needs for a biomass plant.
Jaisen Mody, a general manager of generation projects at PGE, unveiled elements of the research during a talk Monday at the second annual conference of Oregon BEST (Oregon Built Environment & Sustainable Technologies Center), a state-funded initiative aimed at spurring economic growth in renewable energy and green building sectors.
Speaking to approximately 100 researchers, government employees, students and nonprofit personnel, Mody disclosed that PGE has been working with scientists to grow sample crops of Arundo Donax. The goal is to study its viability as a fuel source and probe how much electricity the grass could produce if it were torrified — or roasted like coffee — into a charcoal-like substance that would burn inside a revamped Boardman plant.
Lee van der Voo, lvdvoo*at*gmail.com, is a freelance writer for Sustainable Business Oregon.
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