Wyden supports additional FY 2017 bioenergy funding

By Erin Voegele | March 31, 2016

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is advocating for increased production of sustainable biomass to heat and power homes and businesses while reducing the risk of wildfires and creating jobs in rural areas.

Wyden issued two letters to Senate appropriators in March, highlighting the important role of biomass programs at the U.S. forest Service and U.S. Department of Energy. According to Wyden, bioenergy not only provides a source of low-carbon energy, it provides a way to utilize dead trees, underbrush and other wood material that overcrowd forests and worsen the risk of wildfires. As a result, the production of biomass energy helps restore healthier, more resilient forests.

The first letter, issued March 11, is addressed to Sen Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., ranking member of the same committee. In the letter, which is also signed by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Al Franken, D-Minn., Charles Schumer, D-N.Y, and Jon Tester, D-Mont., the senators ask the subcommittee to provide $302 million in funding to bioenergy technologies within the 2014 appropriations bill, a $33 million increase above the proposed DOE budget. The funding would be used to promote woody biomass technology and development along with wildfire risk reduction. “In addition, we suggest that you add report language to ensure these additional funds are directed to woody bioenergy research and development for heat and power applications,” wrote the senators in the letter. 

According to the letter, $15 million of the additional funds would be used as grant money for developing innovative preprocessing techniques for wood biomass to be used in heat and power applications, $5 million would be used for research on clean residential wood heaters, $5 million would support woody biomass fueled combined-heat-and-power technical assistance partnerships, $5 million would support developing market opportunities for small woody biomass gasifier systems, and $3 million would go towards strategic analysis and research on the sustainability of woody bioenergy.

“Additional appropriations for these programs would fill gaps in wood biomass energy projects and development funded by the Bioenergy Technologies budget,” wrote the senators.

The second letter, issued March 18, is addressed to Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, and Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., ranking member of the same committee. In the letter, which is also signed by Sens. Shaheen, Angus King, D-Maine, Feinstein, and Jeffrey Merkley, D-Ore., the senators ask the committee to fund the state and private forestry functions of the U.S. Forest Service at $302.5 million, an increase of $68.5 million over the president’s fiscal year 2017 budget. The senators said the additional funds would provide needed support to promote woody biomass technology and development and wildfire risk reduction. The senators also ask the subcommittee to add report language to ensure that these additional funds are directed to woody bioenergy research and development. According to the letter, $15 million would go to grants for heat and electricity projects using woody biomass, $20 million would fund woody biomass heat and electricity installations at new or existing federal facilities, $5 million would be used to create the Wood Energy Works Program, $1 million would go towards an interagency wood energy policy report, $20 million would create a program to establish Statewide Wood Energy Teams, and $7.5 million would support a regional technical assistance program to install woody biomass systems for heating, cooling or electricity. 

Wyden has taken additional actions in recent months to support bioenergy development. In May, Wyden introduced the BioEnergy Act, which would establish competitive, cost-share grant programs at the Department of Energy and the Forest Service for commercially proven biomass projects, as well as to improve technologies for drying and compressing woody biomass. This process improves fuel quality and allows biomass producers to more easily transport wood products from forested areas to market.

Last February, Wyden asked the General Services Administration and the USDA to lift restrictions on the use of biomass energy technologies in the construction of new federal buildings. The GSA works with federal agencies to find space for offices, visitor centers and other federal facilities.