Renewable Energy in Alabama
Renewable energy has the potential to become a major economic factor in Alabama, but it has not yet become the reality that we had hoped for. Electricity from solar and wind are not good fits for Alabama. Geothermal heat sources are not available here. Hydro-power is already a major source of our electricity, and the capacity of our rivers as power sources is fully utilized.
Alabama's forest and farm biomass resources and the infrastructure already in place to grow, harvest, and deliver them, will attract businesses which will produce renewable electricity and biofuels. We have seen public announcements of renewable electricity projects, but no stand-alone plants have been built. Southern Company/Alabama Power Company has shown that co-firing wood with coal can be an economical and technical alternative to burning 100% coal in some of their power plants. The primary reason for this lack of progress appears to be the lack of clear energy policy at federal level, and absence of any renewable electricity policy in Alabama
Twenty-nine states now have Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), requiring that some percentage of the electricity sold in that state come from renewable sources. Five others have "goals" for renewable electricity. The use of common sense to create new markets for biomass fuels for the production of renewable electricity can be a win-win for Alabama and our power producers.
The renewable transportation fuels industry has also been slower than anticipated in developing. It appears that some combination of financial and technical difficulties have prevented the announced cellulose based bio-fuels plants from becoming commercial. Hopefully the issues delaying these plants will be resolved soon. Other biofuels plants are rumored to be considering Alabama for building facilities, but no public announcements have been made. The biomass based biofuels industry, when developed, will probably be more attractive markets for forest or agricultural sources of biomass. It appears that this industry can afford to pay more for cellulosic biofuel feedstocks than power companies can pay for biomass as a fuel to produce electricity.
The wood pellet industry suffered a major setback with the failure of Dixie Pellets in Selma last year. Hopefully that plant will resume operation under new ownership soon. We do, however, have two other wood pellet plants. These are Nature's Earth in Reform and Lee Energy Solutions in Crossville. These plants provide important markets for those businesses that supply wood to them.
The Biomass Crop Assistance Program is a federal program designed to assist in developing crops of biomass and markets for them. Instead, it wasted millions of taxpayer dollars before being temporarily halted. Hopefully it will return and accomplish its intended purpose.
John McMillan understands the agriculture, forestry, and the energy industries in Alabama. He will develop and implement plans to bring all these together to the mutual benefit of Alabama and its citizens. Alabama's potential to become the nation's leader in renewable electricity and transportation biofuels must not be overlooked.