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Feb 9, 2012

Waste heat-to-power group rebrands itself for a Capitol Hill push

E&E News Reports: Waste Heat to Power group rebrands itself for Capitol Hill push. Washington — A group of energy companies including General Electric Co. has launched a new Capitol Hill campaign with hopes of finding support for technologies that let industrial plants make electricity from waste heat.

The group, which started in 2010 as an informal coalition, announced today that it will begin calling itself the Heat Is Power Association. Its current goal is to pass a proposed bill that offers a 30 percent investment tax credit for heat-to-power devices at industrial plants.

The technology has been embraced by large energy users such as the forest products giant Weyerhaeuser Co., which is now upgrading a paper mill in Greenville, N.C. with heat-to-energy equipment that may generate up to 800 kilowatts of electricity. Those kinds of projects generate power without any emissions, yet they are not eligible for the same incentives as windmills and solar installations, said Kelsey Southerland, the executive director of Heat Is Power, in an interview.

“What we’re all concerned about is having more inexpensive energy that’s domestic with the smallest amount of carbon emissions possible,” said Southerland, who doubles as the government relations director at Houston-based TAS Energy Inc. “We’re right up there with the other sources of zero-emissions electricity, and we want to make sure we’re getting those market incentives, as well.”

And of the 30-plus states with renewable portfolio standards, 11 have let waste heat qualify in some way, the group says.

Ohio, for instance, has considered making waste heat eligible for the state’s standard, which requires Ohioans to get 1.5 percent of their electricity from renewable sources this year. That requirement ramps up to 12.5 percent in 2024.

That will make state-level advocacy a key part of the mission, but on Capitol Hill, the advocacy group will throw its weight behind the “Heat Is Power Act.” New York Democratic Rep. Paul Tonko introduced the bill (H.R. 2812) last year along with presidential candidate Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Democratic Reps. Jay Inslee of Washington and Shelly Berkley of Nevada (E&E Daily, Sept. 9, 2011).

Though heat-to-power technology has been around for a while, it has historically gotten scant attention from policymakers.

Southerland said the lack of tax credits has put heat-to-power projects at a disadvantage and made it harder to get the new technology off the ground. For instance, TAS Energy got federal tax incentives when it built five geothermal plants in the United States capable of generating a total of 114 megawatts, but it has gotten nothing for heat-to-power projects.

She said this should be a relief to members of Congress who have grown frustrated with other energy subsidies’ long lifespan.

“Waste heat has never been recognized at all, ever,” Southerland said. “We know the folks in Congress have heard this from everyone, but three to five years is all we need.”

Most of the capturable heat from industrial plants is not warm enough for an ordinary steam turbine, so companies such as General Electric and Weyerhaeuser’s supplier, KGRA Energy LP, can also base their equipment on the organic Rankine cycle.

A typical system takes industrial heat and uses it to boil an organic fluid with a lower boiling point than water. The vaporized fluid then turns a turbine and powers the generator. As long as the cost of generating that electricity is less than that of buying electricity from the grid, the company ends up shrinking its energy bills.

With the new campaign, Heat Is Power aims to distinguish itself from the U.S. Clean Heat & Power Association, which deals with similar policies but mainly represents cogeneration plants that burn fuel for electricity and put the heat to a nearby use.

That method goes by the name combined heat and power, or CHP. Anna Chittum, a senior policy analyst who studies heat use at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, said it makes sense that the new group wants to separate itself.

Environmentalists and efficiency advocates like both types of facilities because they make thriftier use of energy. But while cogeneration plants are built to burn a fossil fuel such as coal or natural gas, capturing the heat from the end of an unrelated industrial process might be a better fit for a renewable portfolio standard, Chittum said.

“Because [the heat] already exists, it’s easier to make the argument that this is fuel-free energy,” she said. “I think that there can be much more nuanced ways that we treat CHP, but we haven’t quite gotten there yet.”


Gabriel Nelson, E&E reporter

Published: Tuesday, February 7, 2012