Biomass’s Role in Clean Power Plan

On Aug. 3, the Obama administration released the final version of its Clean Power Plan, an ambitious state-by-state roadmap for reducing carbon emissions from all sources.
By Bob Cleaves | August 26, 2015

On Aug. 3, the Obama administration released the final version of its Clean Power Plan, an ambitious state-by-state roadmap for reducing carbon emissions from all sources. Since power plants are responsible for a large amount of U.S. carbon emissions, reducing carbon from electricity is the main objective of the plan, which has set reduction targets for each state. States will have some flexibility in determining their strategy for reducing carbon from power sources, also known as State Implementation Plans, but they must follow a specific and complicated set of rules to achieve their targets and gain EPA approval.

Biomass Power Association is still evaluating the rule and its potential impacts on the industry, for both existing plants and potential new facilities. From the outset, the rule squarely acknowledges the benefits of biomass in the preamble, stating, “The EPA recognizes that the use of some biomass-derived fuels can play an important role in controlling increases of CO2 levels in the atmosphere.”

From there, it gets much more complicated. Below are a few areas likely to affect our industry that BPA is still analyzing.

• Verifying the carbon benefits of every biomass feedstock: States will need to prove the carbon benefits of each biomass feedstock named in their carbon reduction plans. It is likely that many waste-derived biogenic feedstocks will qualify, but only with measures in place to monitor, report and verify the fuel’s carbon benefits. This can be a complex and costly procedure, and it’s unclear whether the state or the biomass facility and its fuel suppliers would bear this cost.

• Existing versus new facilities: Only facilities that came online on or following the EPA’s cutoff of Jan. 1, 2013, will be counted in each SIP. This theoretically excludes many facilities that are, in practice, no different than the ones that came online a year or two later.

• “Qualified biomass” and cofiring: EPA defines qualified biomass as “biomass that can be considered as an approach for controlling increases of CO2 levels in the atmosphere.” It appears to have opened the door for coal facilities to cofire with biomass, but only fuel from approved feedstocks.

• Scientific Advisory Board findings: The EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board process is ongoing and could affect which feedstocks are considered “qualified biomass.” This panel is tasked with identifying the carbon emissions of all biogenic sources, and included in the final Clean Power Plan are references to the panel’s influence in determining approvable feedstocks. It is unclear when the panel’s peer review process will be complete, but many expect a conclusion before the end of the year.

We anticipate that the implementation of the Clean Power Plan will be a focus of our association for many months, or even years, to come. We are conducting a survey among members of Biomass Power Association to determine the types of fuel used in each state. This will help us decide the best way to advocate for and support our members, on both the federal and state levels, as the Clean Power Plan implementation begins to take shape.

Biomass accounts for a small portion of the U.S. power load, around 2.5 percent, but provides many ancillary benefits. Our industry provides many more jobs per megawatt than some other renewable power sources. We also provide an outlet for materials that are low value and often unusable, like forestry residues and agricultural byproducts. And we provide stable, reliable electricity that isn’t dependent on weather conditions, an important supplement to intermittent power that the Clean Power Plan heavily favors. For all of these reasons, we play an important role in the U.S. power portfolio, and we are confident that states will acknowledge this as they draft their plans.

We are not the only power-producing industry still weighing the impacts of the plan; many others are in a similar situation. We expect to hear a lot more in the coming weeks and months, but right now, one thing is sure: The Clean Power Plan will be a focus for a very long time.

Author: Bob Cleaves
President, Biomass Power Association