One of the largest sources of energy alternatives in Kentucky may be biomass, which refers to formerly live mass that can be burned to create electricity. While Biomass can be defined as "renewable", it is not without controversy. According to US Energy Information Administration (EIA) resources, Biomass could include agricultural residues, animal manure, wood wastes, food and paper industry residues, municipal green wastes, sewage sludge, and a large variety of grasses and crops. (There are at least 14 native Kentucky plant species considered to be suitable for biomass energy production). So depending on the fuel source and production process, the environmental impact of Biomass can vary significantly.
Biomass energy can be designed for small scale (family/community) and large scale (utility) applications.
In 2009, our state government convened a task force that pursued the idea of burning wood and other fuel crops, along with coal, in our existing fleet of power plants. One paper from the task force suggested that growing fuel crops on a large scale could consume 13% of Kentucky’s existing farmland. Burning wood waste and switch grass in our coal-fired power plants could potentially decrease the amount of coal used, but could also result in the production of mono-crops for fuel, deforestation and other impacts. While it could spur job creation and a stronger agricultural economy, much care would need to be taken with the selection of fuel source and process.
Any plan to use biomass energy on a large scale will have important consequences for Kentucky's forests, air, soils, and water and thus must be carefully considered.
Reports and Resources
Executive Taskforce on Biomass and Biofuels (KY). "Final Report" (September 2009): agpolicy.ky.gov/Documents/091210_BiomassTaskForce_FinalReport.pdf.
Kentucky Department for Energy Development and Independence. Biomass task force home page: www.energy.ky.gov/biomass/.
Kentucky Rural Energy Consortium. "25 x '25 Roadmap for Kentucky" (2008). louisville.edu/kppc/krec contains a link the report.
Mountain Association for Community and Economic Development. "The Forests and Wood Products Sector in Appalachian Kentucky: What We Heard and What We Learned" (February 2009). Click here to access.
Moore, Frank. "Executive Task Force on Biomass and Biofuels" presentation (September 2009). Click here to access.
Shearer, S.A. "Can Kentucky Develop a 25 MTY Biomass Industry?" presentation (September 2009). Click here to access.