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Research article2022Peer reviewedOpen access

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

    Associated SLU-program

    SLU Forest Damage Center

    Sustainable Development Goals

    SDG7 Affordable and clean energy
    SDG8 Decent work and economic growth

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