Southern Company Opens the Nation's Largest Biomass Plant

The Southern Company, the nation's second-biggest utility by market value, recently opened the largest biomass power plant in the country. The $500 million Nacogdoches Generating Facility located in Sacul, Texas will provide 100 megawatts of power under a 20-year contract with the city of Austin.

The new facility will have capability of providing enough energy for 60,000 homes and has the advantage of providing baseload power 24 hours a day. According to a release by the Southern Company, the plant will require nearly 1 million tons of biomass fuel (sawmill waste, waste wood, municipal waste, storm debris, etc.) annually over a 75-mile radius to continue operations. They expected the plant to provide roughly $58 million in local tax revenue over the next 20 years and employ 40 full-time workers.

The state of Texas passed a renewable portfolio standard in 1999 that mandated electricity providers (competitive retailers, municipal electric utilities, and electric cooperatives) to generate 2,000 megawatts of renewable energy (wind, solar, biomass, etc) by 2009. The legislature significantly expanded that requirement in 2005 to require the generation of at least 5,880 megawatts of renewable power by 2015 and 10,000 megawatts by 2025. The 2025 renewable targets have largely been met by a rapid expansion of wind power in Texas. In order to ensure more diversity in its energy mix, the 2005 update to the renewable energy mandate included a caveat that at least 500 megawatts of power come from non-wind sources by 2025.