Texas $2.3B Biomass Plant Gets Approved

Despite rising controversy over a proposed $2.3 billion biomass plant in East Texas, the Austin city council unanimously approved the contract on Thursday, the local Statesman reports. Under the terms of the contract,Nacogdoches Power will construct and operate a 100-megawatt plant, which will burn woody wastes, including sawdust and tree trimmings, and sell the power to Austin Energy over the course of 20 years.

The plan is controversial because critics says the contract was secured behind closed doors with Nacogdoches and a competitor says it could have offered a biomass plant for a lower cost than $2.3 billion. The CEO of competitor American Biorefining & Energy Inc. sent the Austin city council the company’s own proposal for a biomass project on Wednesday and questioned the bidding process. The approved biomass project is also being looked at closely for its environmental effects, and Nacogdoches will be required to report on how the plant is affecting forests, air and water quality.

The city of Austin has set a goal of delivering 30 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Austin Energy currently only gets about 6 percent of its energy from renewable sources, and John Baker, the company’s chief of strategy, told us earlier this year that wind energy alone wouldn’t get them to 30 percent. If all the planned wind, solar and biomass come through on schedule, Austin Energy could be getting as much as 18 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2012.