Navigating the Biomass Industry's Hills and Valleys

There are several important stories in this month's magazine, but I would like to point out a couple that address what I believe will be ongoing issues for the biomass industry. In the first, "Stack Attack" (page 22), Associate Editor Lisa Gibson delves into biomass-power plant emissions and the heated opposition to the use of biomass for power in Russell, Mass.

Gibson did an excellent job covering both sides of this issue even though at Biomass Magazine, we are clearly proponents of biomass power. We do believe it's important, however, for our readers to be aware of this opposition and to see the kind of disruption it can provoke, whether the opponents are in the right or are totally off base.

The biomass power emissions issue became even more pervasive when the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources suspended consideration of any new biomass projects for participation in the state's renewable portfolio standard until a study is conducted to evaluate the sustainability of biomass resources in the state and the carbon neutrality of biomass power. Furthermore, biomass opponents are circulating a petition to pass a law that "would require waste-to-energy and biomass renewable energy sources relying on combustion or pyrolization (decomposition caused by heat) to emit no more than 250 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour in order to be considered ‘renewable energy generating sources,' ‘Class I renewable energy generating sources,' or ‘alternative energy properties' under state laws concerning renewable and alternative energy programs."

We need to keep our eyes on these developments, and make sure that they don't become models for other states to follow.

Another feature I would draw your attention to is "Methane Migraine" (page 34) written by Associate Editor Anna Austin, who talked with air quality officials and dairy farmers in California about anaerobic digestion permitting headaches.

Even though, as pointed out in the article, digesters greatly reduce methane, a greenhouse gas that is 21 times more potent than CO2, the dairy farmers are being told that they need to reduce the amount of nitrogen oxide (NOx) released by the combustion engines they use to turn the biogas into electricity. This is especially onerous for dairy producers in regions considered severe non-attainment areas for ozone, where stricter NOx emissions standards exist.

Although this issue is currently specific to California dairies, we should keep in mind that many air quality rules adopted in this country originated in California.

Despite these issues, the biomass industry continues to grow and government support hasn't waned. In fact, in early December, U.S. DOE Secretary Steven Chu and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack selected 19 integrated biorefinery projects to receive up to $564 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to speed up the construction and operation of pilot-, demonstration- and commercial-scale facilities.

As with any new industry there are going to be hills and valleys, we just have to make sure the valleys don't turn into sink holes.