Biomass Poised to Leap Economic, Political, Regulatory Hurdles

By Rona Johnson | November 23, 2010

This issue of Biomass Power & Thermal is about financing and building the biomass industry, which is a monumental task given the state of the economy, the current political situation and the regulatory environment.

Although the economy may be coming around, banks still seem reluctant to put their money to work, and I’m sure private investors are wondering which way the political winds are going to blow now that the Republicans have taken over the House of Representatives.

I believe that no matter who is in the majority position in the House, lawmakers in general will support biomass energy because it is a sure-fire way to create jobs in this country, which is what the people who voted for them will be expecting from them in 2011. Government support should loosen investors’ purse strings.

Then there are the regulatory issues. Biomass Power & Thermal editors interviewed bankers, private investors and construction companies to gauge their attitude toward the industry today and looking ahead to 2011. As we had anticipated, they all agreed that the most pressing issues we face currently are regulatory in nature, including the Industrial Biomass Maximum Achievable Control Technology rule and the Greenhouse Gas Tailoring Rule.

These issues came up not only in our features but also in nearly every presentation and conversation at the Southeast Biomass Conference & Expo in November in Atlanta. The idea that woody biomass would not be considered carbon neutral in the U.S. is absurd especially when you look to the rest of the world where it is being embraced as a prime renewable energy source. As David Tenny, president and CEO of the National Alliance of Forest Owners, continues to stress, the U.S. forested area has been steadily maintained for the past 100 years while the use of wood for the housing, paper and energy industry has grown. To read more about the conference, see the “Biomass Industry Convenes in Biomass Central” feature starting on page 40.

Despite the regulatory cloud, the experts we talked to for this issue and attendees at the conference were enthusiastic about the biomass industry and the potential economic opportunities that it offers. From the burgeoning biomass power industry in the European Union, which is turning to North America to supply biomass pellets, to the return of the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, to the companies that are developing biomass energy crops and the technologies to more efficiently convert biomass into power, fuel and chemicals, there are many reasons to be bullish.

It is my fervent hope that the regulatory issues will be settled in favor of the biomass industry, and that we will have more important things to discuss when we meet at the Pacific West Biomass Conference & Trade Show, which will be held Jan. 10-12 in Seattle.