2022 a Banner Year for Biomass

Last year was a good year for the biomass industry. This year is about building upon last year’s achievements and ensuring policies are implemented.
By Carrie Annand and Julee Malinowski-Ball | January 19, 2023

Last year was a banner year for the biomass power sector in California and nationally. In August, the Inflation Reduction Act, which, among other issues, encourages investing in domestic energy production, primarily clean energy. For the biomass industry, the IRA extends existing tax credits for new biomass power facilities, as well biofuels and funding for biofuel infrastructure development. The act also offers assistance for biogas and biomass electricity production and tax credits for carbon capture and storage (CCS). Overall, the IRA gives the biomass power sector reductions in costs and opportunities to invest in new technologies.

The following month, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 1109, which extends requirements on electric investor-owned utilities (IOUs) to procure energy from biomass-generating electric facilities by five years. This law calls on the IOUs to extend existing contracts or procure at least 125 MW of sustainable and renewable power from biomass-generating facilities.

The two pieces of legislation provide much-needed stability to the entire biomass industry. The California legislation ensures the existing facilities have contracting options, while the federal law provides funding and tax incentives.

While 2022 was a banner year, the Biomass Power Association and the California Biomass Energy Alliance are not resting on our laurels. Both entities will continue to push to maintain existing facilities and new opportunities. On the federal side, BPA will continue pursuing RINs for electric generation, also known as eRINs. Nearly 15 years after the establishment of the federal Renewable Fuel Standard program, the U.S. EPA in December proposed a rule for electricity generators to participate in the program, allowing them to receive shared credits for the power they supply to electric vehicles. These RIN credits stand to be a source of support for biomass power producers; however, the EPA still needs to approve biomass power feedstocks for inclusion in the RFS. BPA will be engaging with the EPA as well as other allies in Washington to get eRINs for biomass power over the finish line, at long last.

In California, CBEA will focus on promoting baseload and dispatchable renewable power by ensuring biomass continues to be one of California’s clean and renewable energy tools. In addition, CBEA will push to implement and expand SB 1109 to include facilities receiving the majority of their fuels from agricultural waste in order to improve air quality by reducing open burning. While this does not sound like an enormous task, opponents of the biomass power industry in California erroneously link biomass to the burning of fossil fuels. The opponents portray the fuels used at biomass facilities as trees harvested for fuel, rather than otherwise useless woody residues. Even regulators tend to overlook the biomass power industry. In a clean energy hearing before the California Energy Commission, several renewable energy supply options were listed, but biomass was nowhere to be seen. CBEA is working to change this.

CBEA will also work to promote the state’s healthy forest initiatives. A rift exists in California’s environmental community about whether to follow past policies of leaving the forests alone, versus managing public forests. This debate continues even though a recent UCLA study showed carbon pollution from California’s 2020 wildfires erased 16 years of the state’s greenhouse gas emission cuts. The study further states the need for “increased investment in preventative measures.” CBEA agrees with the study by supporting forester and firefighter efforts to manage the forests by removing underbrush and dead and dying trees to reduce the risk of forest fires.

CBEA also supports investments in carbon capture and sequestration. Currently, California depends on power sources with air emissions to ensure grid reliability. Carbon capture and sequestration allow the state to keep the lights on while moving to a clean energy future.

Last year was a good year for the biomass industry. This year is about building upon last year’s achievements and ensuring policies are implemented.

Authors: Carrie Annand
Executive Director, Biomass Power Association
www. usabiomass.org  

Julee Malinowski-Ball
Executive Director, California Biomass Energy Alliance