Harnessing the Forces of Nature
Each year at the Wheelabrator Shasta Energy Co. plant in Anderson, Calif., 750,000 tons of mill, forest, and agricultural waste--a.k.a. biomass--are turned into more than 400 million kilowatt hours (kwh) of power.
But power is only part of the story. Biomass plants annually free up 240 million cubic feet of landfill space and are 95% cleaner than open-field burning of agricultural by-products. Though biomass is the largest of the renewable industries--capable of generating 7.5 million kilowatts of power in the U.S.--low natural gas prices in the mid-'90s forced many plants to close.
Fuel accounts for half the 61/2-cent-per-kwh price. But the answer may be in millions of acres of overgrown national forests. Though environmentalists have concerns about habitat loss, thinning for fire prevention could provide a vast, cheap source of biomass.