California bioenergy bill killed

By Anna Austin
Posted September 22, 2010, at 3:30 p.m. CST

A bill (AB 222) that would have expedited the introduction of new conversion technologies to produce green power and advanced biofuels from solid waste materials in California is officially dead, due to lack of key support needed from five democrats on the Senate Environmental Quality Committee.

Bioenergy Producers Association Chairman Jim Stewart said the dismissal of AB 222 was a major blow to a key element in California's Bioenergy Action Plan, which the bill was consistent with. "The five democrats on the Senate Environmental Quality Committee ignored and literally swept aside more than 100 statewide endorsements of AB 222, including those of the California Energy Commission, the Air Resources Board and CalRecycle, the former Integrated Waste Management Board," Stewart said.

AB 222 passed the California Assembly with flying colors on June 1, 2009, by a vote of 54-13, after it was approved by a unanimous bipartisan vote of 11-0 in the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee. In July of last year, it was approved in the Senate Utilities, Energy and Communications Committee, and since then was awaiting action in the Senate Committee on Environmental Quality, which eventually stripped key components from the bill, prompting withdrawal of the legislation.

Overall, AB 222 would have corrected scientifically inaccurate definitions and antiquated provisions in the Integrated Waste Management Act of 1989, and enabled and expedited the in-state production of green electricity and advanced biofuels from biomass through a wide range of emerging technologies, including nonincineration processes such as gasification, fermentation and pyrolysis. The bill would have also removed current statutory restrictions that require thermal conversion projects to have zero emissions, a standard required of no other energy generation technology or manufacturing process in the state. Finally, it would have allowed the biogenic portion of the post-recycled municiple solid waste (MSW)-the organic-derived materials when waste has been sorted for recycling- to qualify under the state's renewable portfolio standard (RPS).

"Earlier this year, Colorado raised their RPS mandate to 30%," Stewart pointed out, "Subsequently, they passed additional legislation that qualifies all MSW, without reservation, as a feedstock for the production of electricity. California did just the opposite-the SCEQ stripped the bill of that component even though it was limited to biogenic materials, and also stripped out the provision that if a jurisdiction makes its waste resources available as feedstocks for use in the production of biofuels and electricity, it would count as landfill reduction, rather than waste disposal, as it does currently."

California has a recycling mandate of 50 percent, a law that was passed in 1989. "Currently, if a city or a county were to make its waste available to these bioenergy companies, it would not count toward that mandate, and if they were to enter into long-term contracts for use of their waste streams, it might one day place them at the risk of being fined for not meeting the mandate, if the state ever were to increase its recycling mandate," Stewart said. "Two things that are necessary for biobased producers to finance their projects are RPS and landfill reduction credits."

Conversion technologies can recover five times as much energy from MSW as landfill gas with fewer emissions, Stewart said. "However, electricity from landfill gas receives RPS credit in California, whereas if you gasify the MSW to produce electricity before it enters the landfill, it does not. Further, under California statute, if you place green waste or biosolids in a landfill for use as alternate daily cover, it qualifies as landfill reduction, but if you use the same wastes as feedstocks for the production of renewable energy, it does not."

If AB 222 had survived in any form that would have represented a workable step forward for the production of alternate biofuels and electricity from solid waste in the state, its passage by the full senate and signature by the governor appeared certain, according to Stewart. "After the Committee gutted the bill, and then published further amendments that would have made it even more difficult to permit these plants in California than it already is, the state's three leading regulatory agencies and other stakeholders made a dedicated effort to work with the committee's staff to craft acceptable compromise language, but to no avail. We had no alternative but to withdraw our own legislation."

"For six years democrats on California's environmental committees have yielded to environmental interests and blocked legislative initiatives to make renewable energy production from organic wastes possible in California. During the time, 240 million tons of post-recycled waste, and its value for energy recovery, have been placed in the state's landfills " Stewart noted.

Stewart said with the loss of AB 222, it could take five to six years to permit and construct a conversion technology facility in California-if a permit could be obtained at all. "Its failure to pass will incentivize biobased technology providers to take their projects elsewhere," Stewart added. "They can't afford to place their limited capital resources at that kind of risk."