Goal for 2019: Get Electricity Included in RFS

Our biggest hope for 2019 is to see eRINs included in the implementation of the RFS, but we are also preparing for the other policy initiatives that may come our way.
By Bob Cleaves | January 03, 2019

Happy New Year to all in the biomass industry. This year, we are kicking off with a new Congress. The House will be led by a Democratic majority, while the Senate will remain Republican-led. In light of the new dynamics, we thought we would look at what that could mean for biomass, and what we can expect from the federal government in 2019.

Democrats have made climate legislation one of the central goals of their newfound majority. It’s likely that we’ll see several proposals for how to reverse climate change and invest in more renewable energy growth. While they will no doubt aim for bold proposals like a carbon tax, their ambitions will have to be somewhat muted because of the Republican Senate and administration. 

Most important, we think that the new configuration of Congress could be helpful for our primary objective in 2019: getting the U.S. EPA to process applications for electricity producers to participate in the RFS. There is already significant support on both sides of the aisle for including electricity from biogas, biomass and waste-to-energy in the RFS, a program that Congress signed off on 12 years ago, and the EPA five years ago. The extra oversight that a Democratic House may conduct on the EPA could help nudge the agency to move forward with processing eRINs (short for electric RINs, or renewable identification numbers that refer to the credits awarded to fuel producers under the RFS). Plus, eRINs have bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, and the coalition we’ve formed with the biogas and waste-to-energy industries, along with dairy farmers and local governments standing to benefit, expands our reach quite a bit.

There are also several policy proposals that we are keeping an eye on in the new year. The following are a few of the proposals that have already been unveiled.

Rep. Ted Deutch, D.-Fla., has unveiled a bill called the Carbon Dividend Trust Fund. The bipartisan plan, with support from several members of the Climate Solutions Caucus, relies on a $15 per ton tax on carbon emissions, which would increase by $10 each year, with the goal of reducing carbon emissions by 40 percent in 12 years and 90 percent by 2050. The bill is unclear on how it will treat biomass, calling for a study on biomass carbon emissions before deciding how to proceed.

Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., is proposing the Green New Deal—not a fully developed plan, but a proposal to establish a committee to develop a plan. In general terms, Ocasio-Cortez wants to tie economic shortcomings with environmental solutions—for instance, hiring Americans to build solar panels. While she hasn’t mentioned biomass, she has said that the plan should only fund renewable energy, so biomass should qualify. There could be other opportunities for biomass as well. It would be interesting, for instance, to see how the Green New Deal approached forest management. It’s unlikely that a plan like this would gain traction over the next two years, but could be an issue discussed during the 2020 presidential race.

Finally, Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., has proposed a new incentives plan for renewable energy. Under this plan, renewable energy projects would only be eligible for government funding when they account for up to 2 percent of the total U.S. energy output. This could put biomass in a good position relative to other sources of energy, as one of the smaller energy sources. It’s doubtful that this plan would be considered as it is currently written by a Democratic majority, but is noteworthy as a Republican plan to rethink tax incentives for renewables.

Our biggest hope for 2019 is to see eRINs included in the implementation of the RFS, but we are also preparing for the other policy initiatives that may come our way. If you’d like to learn more or get involved with our RFS efforts, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Author: Bob Cleaves
President, Biomass Power Association