Bioenergy leaders gather in Minneapolis for annual discussion

By Anna Simet | April 11, 2017

Bioenergy industry leaders gathered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on April 11, for their annual state-of-the-industry discussion at the 10th International Biomass Conference & Expo.

The first meeting under a Republican administration since the conference’s inception, questions loomed about how a Trump presidency might impact each of the sectors represented on stage, which this year included domestic wood pellets, biogas, biomass power and biomass thermal. Overall, the consensus that it’s too soon to tell what might transpire, but that educating new officials on the specific economic and environmental benefits that baseload bioenergy offers.

While the new administration has next to denounced climate change, panelists agreed that an overall strategy to find an in with Trump may be to make a hard push toward the bioenergy benefits beyond carbon and global warming. “We plan to be more strategic in our message, not to say climate change,” said Patrick Serfass, executive director of the American Biogas Council. “There are so many other great reasons [for biogas energy], so we can shift the message a bit and talk more about infrastructure.”

Jeff Serfass, executive director of the Biomass Thermal Energy Council, agreed. “We do see some common themes—infrastructure and rural jobs—which fit well with his commitments that put him into office.”

Carrie Annand, executive director of the Biomass Power Association, said that the biomass industry is used to uncertainty, and that it’s well-equipped to adjust to any changes. She said a majority of BPA member facilities voted for Trump by significant margins, and that while the sector will emphasize the rural jobs and forestry benefits of biomass power even more, its carbon benefits will continue to be a talking point.

Annand referenced logging and forestry in Maine, and how biomass energy plays an important role in the state’s economy, which has struggled in recent years as a result of a wood fiber market downturn. “We will also continue to push for more Forest Service funding for hazardous fuel removal, which provides opportunities for biomass…if you’re going to make America great again, you’ve got to make logging great again, forestry great again, and you’ve got to make biomass great again,” she said.

Other topics of discussion included a push for long-term reinstatement of the investment tax credit, which industry leaders have been collaborating on, passage of the BTU Act to provide biomass thermal parity with other renewable energy technologies, as well as industry sector growth, barriers and opportunities.  For the biomass power industry, one specific opportunity may be leveraging Renewable Fuel Standard renewable energy credits, via powering electric cars. Annand said previous discussions with the U.S. EPA about a potential pathway appear promising, and that while data tracking could prove to be granular, BPA believes it is doable.

Stan Elliot, chairman-elect of the Pellet Fuels Institute and vice president of sales at Pacific Coast Fiber Fuels, said it’s unlikely a Trump administration will have an impact on the domestic wood pellet industry. Rather, it’s state regulation and incentives, and the weather—consumers using more pellets, and more appliances being installed because it makes financial sense. “In short, the federal level has little impact in the short-term, especially how pellet producers plan for next season,” he said.