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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2022

Environmental and socio-economic implications of woody biomass co-firing at coal-fired power plants

Picciano, Paul; Aguilar, Francisco X.; Burtraw, Dallas; Mirzaee, Ashkan


We apply a detailed power sector model to explore the near-term role of woody biomass co-firing at existing coal facilities in the Eastern US in the decarbonization of US electricity generation. We evaluate five public policy interventions: a biomass co-firing subsidy, two carbon emissions fees, and two clean energy standards. Treating woody biomass as a carbon neutral feedstock, we find co-firing weakly supports decarbonization. However, policies subsidizing co-firing can delay retirement of coal facilities and reduce generation from nuclear, natural gas, wind and solar. Consequently, corresponding sector-wide emissions of CO2 and SO2 may increase (slightly) due to greater utilization of coal plants including relatively inefficient facilities. We assume NOx emissions increase due to generation efficiency losses, but this remains uncertain. Due to higher emissions, a biomass subsidy for co-firing yields small (near zero) economic welfare losses, while in contrast other policies advance decarbonization and yield significant welfare gains. We find justification for biomass use from a local perspective based on first-order impacts on employment and economy activity, but less so air quality. (C) 2022 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


Woody biomass; Biopower co-firing; Electric power sector; Decarbonization policy; Simulation modeling; Benefit-cost analysis

Published in

Resource and Energy Economics
2022, volume: 68, article number: 101296
Publisher: ELSEVIER

Authors' information

Picciano, Paul
Resources for the Future
Picciano, Paul
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Aguilar, Francisco X (Aguilar Cabezas, Francisco X)
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Forest Economics
Burtraw, Dallas
Resources for the Future
Mirzaee, Ashkan
University of Missouri Columbia

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG7 Affordable and clean energy
SDG8 Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all

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