Annual Fly-In Covers Pressing Industry Issues

Biomass Power Association President Bob Cleaves discusses events at the organization's annual fly-in.
By Bob Cleaves | May 28, 2015

In mid-May, 25 Biomass Power Association members traveled to Washington, D.C., for the association’s annual fly-in event. Each year, BPA sets aside a few days to work with our members to set up meetings with federal elected officials who represent them in Congress.

 Our work on Capitol Hill is always cut out for us. On one hand, there are staunch biomass supporters, like the delegation from Oregon, where biomass was recently declared carbon neutral by the state legislature. On the other hand, there are those who don’t understand what we do. Plenty of members, particularly newly elected members, have never heard of biomass or have only a very basic understanding.

 Meetings during the fly-in are important for building interaction between the industry and elected officials, updating members of Congress on our latest issues, and advocating for the policies our industry needs to grow and thrive. This year is particularly important as the U.S. EPA finalizes its Clean Power Plan, and, hopefully, the role of biomass within it. To that end, we urged the 40-plus members of Congress with whom we met to sign onto a letter urging the EPA to provide clarity to the industry on how biomass will fit into the plan and how how states will be able to count biomass toward their carbon reduction targets.

 Another issue our members weighed in on is the role of taxes. In the absence of a national energy policy, tax incentives play a huge role in shaping our energy portfolio, especially in regard to renewable technologies. Currently, biomass is eligible for only half the credit that other renewables are, and the growth of biomass compared to these other energy sources is much less than half. We want to make sure that tax incentives are fair and attainable. The system in place now—extending incentives every year or two— is not very helpful in spurring new investments in our industry.

 What’s happening in California underscores the importance of including biomass as an option for states in their renewable energy portfolios for the Clean Power Plan. A years-long drought, combined with the closing of several biomass facilities, is compounding dangerous conditions. On top of that, many biomass facilities are renegotiating their utility contracts signed decades ago, and biomass is having a tough time competing with the low prices of natural gas.  As a result, farmers who have traditionally sold their agricultural leftovers to local biomass facilities are now concerned that they will have to return to the days of open burning these materials, which is worse for their bottom line as well as for the environment, even during nondrought periods.

 A recent article in the Hanford Sentinel, “Decline of Valley biomass a threat to ag,” explored this scenario. “They just pile up,” said Dino Giacomazzi, Kings County Farm Bureau president. “Currently, biomass plants are about the only way we have to dispose of orchard removal.”

 Covanta’s Matt Barnes summarized the problems facing Central California: “The issue is, there’s this whole ecosystem of the biomass plants. It’s not just that the [electricity generation] goes away. Do we go back to open burning?”

 As the California drought continues and as states develop their carbon reduction plans, we are hopeful that the EPA’s final Clean Power Plan, due out this summer, will help provide some clarity for the industry.

Author: Bob Cleaves
President and CEO, Biomass Power Association