POWER PLATFORM: Biomass Industry Pushes Back Against Potentially Harmful Laws

Biomass Power Association has been busy articulating to various state and federal agencies that certain proposed laws would harm the biomass industry, the larger renewable energy sector and the nation . . .
By Bob Cleaves | October 07, 2010

Biomass Power Association has been busy articulating to various state and federal agencies that certain proposed laws would harm the biomass industry, the larger renewable energy sector and the nation.

There have been countless misunderstandings that have resulted in potentially damaging environment rulings proposed to regulate biomass power. As president of BPA, I have been working hard to represent our members’ best interests in the sometimes fierce battles with government agencies that have their states’ best intentions in mind but do not understand biomass or “biomass done right.” These agencies do not understand the implications their laws may have on a growing industry that contributes so much to the country, and it is of the utmost importance that we explain to them the harm these rulings will cause.

BPA submitted comments to two government agencies—one federal and one state—to help clarify the misconceptions surrounding our industry. In both cases, BPA is fighting on behalf of not only biomass, but the entire renewable energy industry. Most people are surprised to learn that biomass supplies more than 50 percent of the nation’s renewable energy supply.

In August, BPA submitted comments to Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, the agency in charge of the environment, because the DOER misinterpreted the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences report and used it as the basis for  a proposed rule that would greatly increase efficiency criteria for biomass facilities. Complicating matters, the agency endeavored to circumvent normal procedure that prevented Massachusetts residents from expressing their civic right to weigh in on this issue.

The comments we submitted to DOER questioned the proposed rule itself and the process by which the rule is being considered. Our comments clarified that biomass done right works and explained why the Manomet report did not provide a clear picture of biomass and its actual emissions: “Fundamentally, all of Secretary [Ian] Bowles’ regulatory directives are misplaced and inappropriate for a simple reason: the Manomet study has absolutely nothing to do with the way that biomass energy is produced, or likely to be produced, anywhere in New England. Quite simply, Secretary Bowles took the results of the study to suggest sweeping changes in the RPS without listening to the very authors of Manomet who, immediately after issuing the report, made clear that it was not a study of nonforest harvested biomass … In other words, the very authors of the study that the commonwealth is now relying upon to regulate all biomass make clear that their results are not relevant for all biomass.”

BPA also submitted comments in August to the U.S. EPA in response to their proposed Boiler MACT rule, which would all but cease biomass production across the country by making emissions standards unattainable and unrealistic. We agreed that measures must be taken to protect public health and the health of the forests, but pointed out that the Boiler MACT rule was not the way to go about this. Rather, we suggested, EPA should consider tailored emissions standards for each industry based on an evaluation of specific criteria, such as types of boilers and fuels: "In light of the overwhelming support for biomass from every corner of government, it is imperative that EPA adopt a rule that is protective of the public health and the environment while also allowing this critically important energy source to be fully utilized. We are concerned that the proposed rules will impose tens of billions of dollars in capital costs at thousands of facilities across the country. Thus, we ask EPA to consider flexible approaches that appropriately address the diversity of boilers, operations, sectors and fuels that could prevent severe job losses and billions of dollars in unnecessary regulatory costs."

In both instances, the biomass industry stepped up to the plate to educate the uninitiated about what we do. And we must continue to do so when false accusations emerge. As many forms of renewable technology remain in their infancy, or even adolescence, biomass is a mature renewable energy source that is critical to meeting the nation’s ambitious clean energy goals. I truly believe we are making progress and hope that the two government agencies considering stricter biomass rules will make the right decision.

Author: Bob Cleaves
President and CEO, Biomass Power Association