Xcel to Spearhead Midwest's Largest Biomass Plant

Xcel to Spearhead Midwest's Largest Biomass Plant

Xcel Energy will invest as much as $70 million on a biomass power plant project in Wisconsin that will be the Midwest's largest.

Two of the three boilers at the Bay Front Power Plant in Ashland, Wis., have been retrofitted to burn multiple fuels for power, including wood chips. Xcel's proposal will convert the third coal-fired boiler to biomass gasification, enabling the plant to run completely on waste wood.

The power plant has burned nearly 4 million tons of waste wood into power since 1979. After the project, the plant will use as much as 450,000 tons of waste wood a year, compared to roughly 200,000 tons now.

The retrofit will allow the conversion of waste wood to synthetic gas, which is cleaner than coal. The project will reduce nitrogen oxides emissions by half, particulate matter by 90 percent and sulfur dioxides by more than 85 percent.

The move is part of the company's plan to increase renewable energy. Already, the firm is the country's top wind energy provider, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

"As part of this effort, we are investing in advanced energy technologies and improving the environmental performance of our existing generating resources," Dick Kelly, Xcel's president and CEO, said in a statement. "These efforts combined contribute to our goal to reduce carbon dioxide by 22 percent from 2005 levels on our Midwest generation system by 2020."

Xcel will file for approval for the project with the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin later this year. Construction is expected to start in 2010, pending project approval. Operation could begin in late 2012.