Biomass power industry responds to MACT final rules

By Lisa Gibson | February 24, 2011

While the final rules for the U.S. EPA’s boiler Maximum Achievable Control Technology released Feb. 23 are an improvement over last year’s proposals, the Biomass Power Association says the rules still fall short of the sweeping changes the industry hoped for.

“Despite the best efforts by the administration and [EPA], what we are left with is a rule that in spirit is a very positive development,” said Bob Cleaves, president and CEO of the Biomass Power Association. “I think a number of important changes were made. But I think it remains problematic.” Leading up to the release, he added, the EPA worked with the BPA to better understand the industry and how the rules might affect it.

While a new subcategory of major source boilers and process heaters combines coal and biomass units, thereby reducing some pollutant limits, the biomass power industry is still concerned about meeting the limits for mercury and dioxins, according to Cleaves. Still, he added that it does ease concerns considerably. In addition, the elimination of emission standards for certain small, power-producing biomass boilers is a positive, he said. “There’s no question that the EPA had a substantial learning curve in the past 12 months.”

The rules include standards for four source categories—major source industrial, commercial and institutional boilers and process heaters; area source industrial, commercial and institutional boilers; commercial and industrial solid waste incinerators (CISWI); and sewage sludge incinerators—as well as an updated definition of solid waste, crucial in determining which rules a technology will fall under. For an explanation of the final rules, see “EPA Boiler MACT rules ease biomass pains” or go to

Cleaves is also concerned with the definition of solid waste, which determines what rules an installation will fall under. The definition, while updated to exclude resinated wood residuals that meet legitimacy criteria, could still include some biomass materials, such as urban wood waste. “We are not incinerators,” he said. “We do not combust solid waste.”

The aspect of the EPA’s Feb. 23 actions that is most encouraging to the BPA, Cleaves said, is the reconsideration period, which will allow for comments on the rules and possibly further changes. The BPA plans to petition for a facility-by-facility basis for the rule, rather than the current pollutant-by-pollutant structure, he said.

The Biomass Thermal Energy Council also responded to the new boiler MACT rules and said EPA is moving in the right direction. "The greater use of biennial tune-ups for most biomass boiler units is a sensible and practical method for reducing fuel consumption and emissions while keeping compliance costs to a reasonable level," said BTEC Executive Director Kyle Gibeault.

Gibeault said BTEC will continue to work with the EPA to shape the final rule as goes through publication and the reconsideration process.