The waste-to-energy facilities where Parreira used to send about 50,000 tons of shells per year are vanishing. Six have closed in just two years, the latest in Delano, which shut down Thursday, after San Diego Gas & Electric ended its power purchase agreement. Twenty-five people were laid off, and 19 will remain to complete closure of the plant, said Dennis Serpa, fuels manager of the 50-megawatt plant, owned and operated by Covanta.
The Rio Bravo biomass facility south of Fresno is taking some of the fuel that would have gone to Delano. But short of a miracle, the 25-megawatt plant run by IHI Power Services Corp. will burn its last wood chips in July, when its power purchase agreement with Pacific Gas & Electric Co. expires.
The Sacramento Municipal Utility District, meanwhile, is locked in a dispute with the 18-megawatt Buena Vista biomass facility in Ione, and has threatened to terminate its contract, according to district spokesman Christopher Capra.
The closures have forced the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District to consider allowing more agricultural waste to be burned in open piles, which produces particulate matter and ozone-forming compounds associated with cardiovascular illnesses.It seems like we've talked about this before. Oh, yes, it is also a problem in Minnesota. But instead of solar in Minnesota, it's been the low price of natural gas that is undoing biomass:
Minnesota has spent more than $11 million in taxpayer and utility funds to advance technologies that burn biomass for heat and electric generation or convert it to a synthetic gas. Now, it's getting difficult for the technology to compete.
"The era of low-priced natural gas has blunted opportunities for biomass and other renewables," said Doug Tiffany, an agricultural economist at the University of Minnesota.
Natural gas prices have dropped by half since their peak in 2008 as exploration using hydraulic fracturing opened new gas fields in shale formations beneath Texas, Pennsylvania and elsewhere.
What's been a bonanza for those states has been just the opposite for Chippewa Valley Ethanol in Benson, Minn., 125 miles west of the Twin Cities. The cooperative spent more than $20 million in 2008 on a system that gasifies wood chips and corncobs.