alternative energy

The Arkansas Public Service Commission can be thankful this season for some very outspoken electricity customers. More than 200, mostly private residents have published comments ahead of a public hearing Nov. 30 on Docket 16-027-R, proposed changes to net metering.

Net metering is a utility industry term. When big electricity providers like Entergy, SWEPCo and the electrical cooperatives send electricity into a home, it's "metered," typically by the kilowatt-hour. The transportation lines between power plants and customers is called the grid. When customers with solar panels or windmills produce more electricity than they consume, they can push electricity back out onto that grid and get credits from the power company. Thus, consumption may be offset by contribution.

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

More than 150 wood pellet manufacturing mills operate across the U.S., many supplying the domestic woodstove pellet market with home heating fuel.

More than a quarter are industrial pellet mills, grinding thousands of acres of forest into biomass for overseas export to electrical utilities stoking retrofitted coal-fire furnaces with "densified" wood.

The largest mills, concentrated in the southeastern U.S., claim to sustainably harvest timber, from both hardwood and softwood forests. But a new mill, Highland Pellets in Pine Bluff, which harvests only fast-growing Southern softwood pine may be among the greenest.

Still, the calculated ecological costs and benefits of forest biomass remain hazy.