Is biomass-fired power generation carbon-neutral?
Tables 1 and 2 in the left-hand sidebar of this blog give hourly and so-far-daily snapshots of the energy sources that power Ontario’s electricity grid. As you can see, there are five fuel types: coal, gas, hydro, nuclear, “other,” and wind. The “other” category consists of eight generating units, four of which are at OPG’s Lennox station, which is a duel-fuel (oil and gas) plant. The other four are fired with wood waste.
If this graphic is true, then fossil-fired power generation is also carbon-neutral.
As you may have noticed, the Other category typically produces around 170 megawatts at any given time. (As I write this at four p.m. on Thursday April 11, it is producing 210 MW—for some reason Lennox unit 2 is producing 30 MW; Lennox rarely produces any power.)
And you may have also noticed that the tables show the Other category producing relatively low emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) compared with the other emitting fuels, gas and coal. That is because one of the four non-Lennox generators in the Other category used to be gas-fired. When it changed to biomass, I did not change the carbon factor that generates the CO2 figures for the tables. That was because I could not decide if biomass really is carbon neutral.
It is a tricky question. Wood will eventually wind up in the atmosphere as CO2 anyway: it is eaten by fungi, which play an essential role in the natural carbon cycle. But that is just the point. Fungi are part of the natural carbon cycle. Is wood combustion by humans for power generation part of the natural carbon cycle?