Biomass in Clean Energy Incentive Program

The exclusion of biomass from the Clean Energy Incentive Program must not give the impression that the EPA does not support the use of biomass as a carbon reduction compliance strategy.
By Bob Cleaves | August 30, 2016

The final version of the U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan was introduced one year ago. While the final plan included some promising language about biomass, declaring its renewable attributes and recognizing its potential to “control increases of CO2 in the atmosphere,” it still left open the question of how a state could include biomass power in its State Implementation Plan, for which EPA requires each state to submit an outline of its steps to meet a carbon reduction target set by the agency.

The lack of certainty for biomass has plenty of troubling implications. As the Scientific Advisory Board panel enters its sixth year of discussions, there is little hope for a conclusion on the horizon. The major worry is that, by not explicitly defining how a state may incorporate biomass in its plan, the EPA may discourage states from doing so, in order to avoid additional scrutiny.

Now, while the U.S. Supreme Court has placed a hold on the Clean Power Plan pending litigation, is a good time to urge the EPA to make a decision on how to treat biomass, and stick to it.

The lack of certainty affects not only the drafting of state plans, but also other, lesser-known aspects of the Clean Power Plan. Along with the final draft of the plan, the EPA released its Clean Energy Incentive Program, a credit system for states to incentivize new renewable energy generation projects before the Clean Power Plan is scheduled to fully go into effect. Originally only available for wind and solar projects, in June, the EPA unveiled a new version of the plan that allows for the inclusion of other baseload technologies like hydropower and geothermal, while still omitting biomass, biogas and waste-to-energy technologies.

The rationale we have heard for this is that only “zero-carbon-emitting” technologies may partake in the program, while biomass and similar technologies like biogas and waste-to-energy are considered “low-carbon-emitting.” From an industry perspective, it is disheartening that, even though the EPA has stated clearly that the use of residues and byproducts for biomass power may play a role in atmospheric carbon reduction, for the purposes of this program that does not apply.

It also goes against the EPA’s stated intention of the Clean Power Plan, which is to allow states the flexibility to meet carbon standards on their own terms. If a state wanted to prioritize new biomass facilities because of an abundance of fuel and a need for reliable baseload power, it is currently not permitted to use CEIP incentives to do that. 

We understand that biogenic carbon accounting is a difficult undertaking that must factor in many variables, and we don’t envy the EPA’s task of evaluating how to do this. Our hope is that this difficulty is addressed as soon as possible, ideally before states must submit carbon reduction plan. The exclusion of biomass from the Clean Energy Incentive Program must not give the impression that the EPA does not support the use of biomass as a carbon reduction compliance strategy. 
 
 

Author: Bob Cleaves
President, Biomass Power Association
bob@usabiomass.org
www.usabiomass.org