A state-funded, $250 million project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison aims to convert a coal-fired power plant on campus to one that primarily burns biomass such as tree trimmings and crops, ideally becoming a model for how the state can reduce its carbon output and its dependence on fossil fuels.
But the massive venture - accounting for nearly one-fifth of the state's capital budget during the 2009-'11 budget period - faces considerable hurdles. Among them:
• Upfront construction costs will be higher than other alternatives that were considered.
• No infrastructure exists to process the eclectic mix of fuels the plant would burn.
• The plant's surplus electricity will be sold into a regional market already awash in excess power.
Although there are some extant sources of biomass fuel in the Madison area, a lot of work remains for the technology to:
1) produce enough fuel for the plant, and
2) produce fuel which is 'burnable' with the necessary consistency.
And that will call for a lot of money from private sources--and likely, State and Federal grants.
If nothing else, this project is "Hope 'n' Change" in action.