Duke developing biomass plants

Areva SA, the world's biggest nuclear power plant maker, and Charlotte-based Duke Energy have agreed to jointly develop biomass power plants in the U.S.

The companies said in a statement Wednesday that Areva will design and build the plants, which will use wood waste to produce power, while Duke will operate them.

Areva and Duke plan to jointly invest $10 million in the first year of the project, according to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

The venture comes as U.S. consumers are facing a shortage of electricity as demand for power outstrips supply.

Biomass power also is considered carbon neutral by federal and state environmental regulators. The venture has the potential for 10 to 12 plants with capacity of 50 megawatts each, according to the filing.

“We will be trying to find sites and customers and expect to have the first plant constructed by 2010,” said Rick Rhodes, a Duke spokesman in a telephone interview.

The venture will benefit from Areva's experience building more than 100 biomass plants in Europe, Asia and South America, with capacity of more than 2,500 megawatts, according to the statement.

The total current capacity of wood-biomass power generation is estimated to be 6,000 megawatts, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The EIA and several energy consulting firms predict that this figure may double over the next 10 years.