All Eyes are on the Biomass Industry

By Rona Johnson
I would like to thank everyone for making the International Biomass Conference & Expo in Portland, Ore., a success. I have to say, people in the biomass industry are a patient bunch. As some of you may know, I spent a good deal of my time checking people in at the registration desk. I had just learned how to use the computer program and was pretty tentative at first, but nobody seemed to mind. In fact, my ineptness gave me a chance to visit with many of you.

Oregon was the perfect venue for the conference as the state is so supportive of biomass projects. According to Oregon Department of Energy Director Michael Grainey, the state has an energy loan program to help pay for constructing renewable energy facilities and it has two tax credits to encourage the use of biomass. Oregon also has a renewable fuel standard for ethanol, and legislation is pending to establish one for biodiesel. The state also has a renewable portfolio standard that requires the largest utilities to provide 25 percent of their retail sales of electricity from renewable sources in 2025.

If you didn't make it to the biomass conference, you can read about it in this magazine. Biomass Magazine Associate Editor Anna Austin attended the conference and wrote a feature about it called "Biomass in the City of Roses," which starts on page 28.

The only thing that would have made the conference better was if during the conference the U.S. DOE would have announced that it was investing $786.5 million to produce renewable fuels. It would have been even better if Energy Secretary Steven Chu would have been at the conference to make the announcement. Oh well, there's always next year.

As much as I like to complain about the federal government, I was impressed with the funding announcement, and President Barack Obama's creation of the Biofuels Interagency Working Group composed of the DOE, USDA and U.S. EPA. It makes perfect sense for these three agencies to work together as the U.S. looks to increase its use of renewable energy. These three agencies are not only tasked with accelerating the production of biofuels but also with increasing the use of biofuels, and, at the same time, improving the environmental sustainability of biofuels feedstock production.

The president also directed Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to expedite and increase production of and investment in biofuels. Some of the ways the secretary will do this are by refinancing existing investments in renewable fuels, making renewable energy financing opportunities in the Farm Bill available within 30 days, providing loan guarantees for the development, construction and retrofitting of biorefineries, and providing grants to build demonstration-scale biorefineries.

Do you suppose the president read my column last month where I criticized lawmakers for investing too much of our hard-earned tax money into losing ventures and urged them to start putting money into viable industries? Probably not, but a gal can dream.

Rona Johnson