Biomass conference panel will address regional policy strengths, weaknesses

By Lisa Gibson
Posted August 31, 2010, at 10:26 a.m. CST

Many stakeholders in the biomass industry maintain that state-mandated renewable portfolio standards (RPS) would spur development in the Southeast U.S., with its rich woody biomass resources and port access for export.

During Biomass Magazine's Southeast Biomass Conference & Trade Show November 2-4 in Atlanta, panelist Anna Wildeman, attorney with Michael Best & Friedrich LLC, will discuss whether RPSs would actually serve that purpose. Her presentation, Would Biomass Markets in the Southeast States Benefit from State-Mandated RPS Programs?, will be one of four on the panel titled Creating a Policy Friendly Environment for Biomass Heat and Power in the Southeast.

"That is a loaded question," she said. "And is precisely why my presentation is titled with a question mark." Studies and surveys have attempted to assess the effectiveness of state RPS programs on renewable energy generation generally, but conclusions have been inconsistent. "Some studies conclude that state RPS programs only serve special interests and completely fail to promote renewable energy generation," she said. "Others conclude the exact opposite."

There are elements of a state RPS program that if crafted properly, can promote the use of renewable energy sources on a statewide and regional basis, Wildeman said. But there are without a doubt drawbacks to a state-by-state approach such as legal challenges to RPS programs ongoing in several states. "The risk/threat of litigation creates market uncertainty and could be a barrier to market development," Wildeman said. "Some commentators argue that a federal RPS is the solution, although there are downsides to that approach as well."

Wildeman expects there may be some controversy after her presentation over the effectiveness of RPSs generally and the balanced costs to industry. It's a particularly important topic for this regional event because of the dearth of RPSs in the Southeast. "Approximately 30 states currently have RPSs in place, but if you look at a map of the United States, the Southeast region stands out with none.

"As leaders in the biomass industry, it will be up to us to make biomass market development a priority for policy makers and legislators as they draft RPSs," she said.

Also speaking on the panel is Amanda Bilek, energy policy specialist for the Great Plains Institute and author of "Spotlight on Biogas: Policies for Utilization and Deployment in the Midwest", a study that, as its name suggests, evaluates current, proposed, and necessary policies that would push a market for biogas energy in the Midwest U.S. Bilek will touch on the study findings in her presentation, Biomass to Biogas, but will also discuss opportunities for biogas applications all over the U.S. and specifically in the Southeast. The Midwest has an enormous agricultural sector and therefore a prime market for such installations, but municipal solid waste and wastewater treatment plants represent urban doorways into the industry all over the country.

Also speaking on the panel is Al Weed, chairman of grass roots nonprofit corporation Public Policy Virginia, who will be discussing scale and sustainability in the Southeast. Art Samberg, senior consultant for Golder Associates, will deliver the panel's final presentation titled Do EPA's new air quality regulations apply to me? This policy panel will be informative and will delve into lesser-discussed aspects of policy topics in the biomass world.

For more information on the conference, go to