Capitol Gains, Commonwealth Setbacks

By Bob Cleaves | May 22, 2012

The month of April saw, on the national level, several positive signs for the biomass industry in general. We are continuing to see challenges in the commonwealth of Massachusetts, however, that will drastically impede the progress of the industry in the Northeast, and could lead to additional consequences in other states.

First, the good news. Two crucial developments on Capitol Hill in April show that elected officials know about the benefits of biomass, and they are fighting for laws that will help us stay strong and grow.
One of biomass’ longest and most ardent supporters, Rep. Wally Herger, R-Calif., made a convincing argument to his colleagues to extend to biomass the same tax credits enjoyed by our renewable energy brethren. While Herger is retiring from Congress at the end of this term, biomass will remain indebted to him for his steady and outspoken commitment to our industry throughout his tenure.

At a House Ways and Means Committee hearing on expiring tax credits, Herger said, “To the extent that some tax incentives for renewable energy may be maintained, I believe we should aim to make them technologically neutral and avoid picking winners and losers. Currently, wind energy receives a production tax credit that is double the level of other renewable resources, such as biomass and hydropower. The Renewable Energy Parity Act, which I have introduced with Mr. Thompson, would equalize the PTC for all renewables, and I urge the subcommittee to consider this reform.”

On the same day as the Ways and Means Committee hearing, the Senate Agriculture Committee held a markup on its 2012 Farm Bill, which passed the committee with a vote of 16-5. Thanks to Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., this legislation includes an Energy Title that would keep the Biomass Crop Assistance Program alive and well with a $193 million mandatory commitment over the next five years.

BCAP’s collection, handling, storage and transportation allowance has proven invaluable to the industry in recent years and we are very pleased to see the program extended with a healthy budget. The next step for the bill is a vote by the entire Senate, but even the symbolic support shown by the committee’s vote is an important win for us.

Now for the not-so-good news. The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) is continuing with its mission to make it as difficult as possible to produce biomass energy in its state. Despite having volumes of peer-reviewed scientific evidence showing that biomass is good for forests and for the carbon cycle, DOER persists under the assumption that biomass energy is destructive to forests. This couldn’t be further from the truth, and these regulations are worrisome to us as the Natural Resources Defense Council cheerleads for similar regulations in other states. The rules are bad for the entire renewable energy industry, and worse for biomass. Biomass Power Association continues its fight against these rules.

As is often the case, in April we saw two steps forward for our industry and one step backwards. We continue to work on both the federal and state level for favorable laws that will promote the use of biomass done right.

Author: Bob Cleaves
President and CEO, Biomass Power Association