Government Sending Mixed Messages

By Rona Johnson | May 31, 2010
The good news is the U.S. DOE and USDA continues to be supportive of renewable energy and have announced a couple of new funding opportunities.

The DOE and USDA jointly announced on May 6 up to $33 million in funding for research and development of technologies and processes to produce biofuels, bioenergy and biobased products. According to the release, these projects are subject to annual appropriations, and applications are due July 13.

On May 28, the U.S. DOE announced up to $11 million in funding, spread out over three years, for research and development in the area of thermochemical conversion of biomass into advanced biofuels that are compatible with existing fueling infrastructure. The funding is designed to improve the conversion of nonfood biomass to liquid transportation hydrocarbon fuels through pyrolysis. The DOE expects to fund three or four projects and requires a minimum cost share of 20 percent from the applicants. The applications for these funds are due July 9.

On June 2, the DOE announced $5 million in funding for research on the sustainable production of large quantities of nonfood biomass for bioenergy. The closing date for that funding opportunity is July 16.

To find out more about these biomass funding opportunities, go to

The bad news is while the DOE is concentrating its efforts on supporting renewable energy, the EPA is trying to regulate it out of existence. Its latest proposed Boiler Maximum Achievable Control Technology ruling would change the standards for biomass boiler units and those previously considered multifuel boilers would be classified as incinerators and be subject to new emissions limits for mercury, hydrogen chloride, particulate matter, carbon monoxide and dioxin.

A 45-day comment period on the new ruling opened June 7 and the Biomass Power Association held a press conference on June 8 to discuss how the ruling would affect biomass power. Bob Cleaves, BPA president and CEO, said he's been inundated with concerns from the biomass industry. According to one e-mail Cleaves shared during the call, a "mass exodus" from biomass to natural gas would occur if the rule passes.

"This rule is unfortunate and inconsistent with the administration's stated goal of supporting biomass," Cleaves said at the press conference, adding that the BPA is willing to work with the EPA to develop health-based, rational and achievable standards.

The EPA also recently released it's final Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Tailoring Rule, which doesn't exempt biomass power producers from GHG permitting requirements. This ruling treats biomass the same as fossil fuels, despite the fact that it is carbon neutral (see "EPA tailoring rule worries biomass industry" on page 28).

It's obvious to me, that the EPA should be included in discussions about renewable energy funding with the DOE and USDA. If not, we could have a situation where the federal government is funding technology that can't even be operated under EPA rules.