Defining Biomass

ACORE presents its unified, simplified biomass definition to Congress.
By Lisa Gibson | January 05, 2012

When the American Council on Renewable Energy’s Biomass Definition Subcommittee pitched its unified biomass definition to members of Congress in early November, the consensus was clear: no one could remember ever seeing a biomass definition itself as a piece of legislation. So that’s the next step for the subcommittee.

“We’re going to have to find a way to get [our definition] in a piece of legislation to get introduced,” says Charles Brettell, subcommittee member and principal of Energy Asset Advisors. “So that’s sort of the blocking and tackling piece that needs to get done and that’s something we’ll be working on, trying to find the right entrée to get that in front of people legislatively.”

ACORE’s subcommittee developed the definition using aspects of the 2008 Farm Bill. The goal is to unify all 16 current definitions in federal legislation, thereby simplifying policy progress for the biomass industry.

While in Washington, D.C., the subcommittee members also talked with lawmakers about ACORE and its function to provide renewable energy information, and the importance of such an umbrella organization developing the crucial biomass definition. Last, they discussed issues that the members of Congress had on their minds.

“Unsurprisingly, the tax-oriented financial structure that is evident everywhere in the renewable sector was one of the things they wanted to chat about,” Brettell says. “The spectra of Solyndra hung over some of those meetings because a lot of them don’t necessarily understand what specific programs do what things.” Solyndra is a nonissue from a renewable energy standpoint, he adds, as it is not directly related to energy production. California-based Solyndra was a solar panel manufacturer that declared bankruptcy in August after it received $528 million in federal loan guarantees.

The Investment Tax Credit, Production Tax Credit and Section 1603 were also discussed, Brettell says, as the subcommittee tried to get a feel for whether the programs would be extended. Specifically, Section 1603 has bipartisan support and is one of the most effective programs to come out of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, he says. “I think most of the members will get there in spite of political differences,” he says. “I hope that’s the case.”

The definition will also be put in front of the Congressional Biomass Caucus, as ACORE continues to help build that group. “The good news is we got a chance to get it in front of staff, who actually understands it on a granular level,” Brettell says. “The reception from staff was pretty positive. Overall, they understand what we are trying to accomplish. They understand why we wanted to go about it in the way we did.”

Although the definition was well-received, members of Congress have a lot on their plates right now, Brettell acknowledges. “We’re just going to have to keep grinding away at it,” he says. “Everybody agrees it’s good for the country; it’s good for baseload renewable energy. It makes sense, it’s just a matter of how you get it out there.”

ACORE’s biomass definition states:

“’Biomass’ is any organic material including:

(a) Materials, pre-commercial thinnings, or invasive species from U.S. Forest Service, National Forest System lands, Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Department of Defense lands or public lands (as defined by federal law) that:

(i)are byproducts of preventive treatments or removed:

(A) to reduce hazardous fuels;

(B) to reduce or contain disease or insect infestation; or

(C) to restore ecosystem health and resiliency; and

(ii) are harvested in accordance with applicable forest management laws, rules and regulations, and

(b) From private land, non-Federal land or land belonging to a Native American or Native Tribe that is held in trust by the United States or subject to a restriction against alienation imposed by the United States, including

(i) residual materials, including

(A) crop residue;

(B) other vegetative materials and oils (including wood waste and wood residues);

(C) animal waste, bedding materials, and byproducts (including fats, oils, greases, and manure); and

(D) the biogenic fraction of municipal materials including all residuals segregated, after reasonably practicable efforts, from waste material, food waste, yard waste, and wastewater treatment plant biosolids; or

(ii) plant materials, including

(A) grains;

(B) other agricultural products;

(C) trees harvested in accordance with applicable forest management laws, rules and regulations;

(D) other plants; and

(E) algae, aquatic plants and byproducts (including oils).”

—Lisa Gibson