Legislative Support for Biomass Thermal Continues to Build

By Joseph Seymour | July 28, 2011

Summertime is a natural opportunity to take stock of the year's biomass progress and project toward the fall months and heating season. Looking back, it’s fair to assess the first half of 2011 as a time of growing recognition of biomass thermal energy. While biomass heating advocates may not be able to point to a single watershed legislative victory, there have been many smaller wins across the U.S. that are finally placing biomass thermal in the same conversation with other renewables.

To begin, we can look to Washington, D.C., which is starting to take biomass thermal seriously. Aside from the regulatory deferrals and reconsideration of the U.S. EPA’s Tailoring Rule and Boiler Maximum Achievable Control Technology standards, respectively, biomass thermal received an uncommon call-out and reflection on its merits. In March, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee unveiled its Clean Energy Standard white paper, and one provision stood apart from all the others; in an energy policy dominated by electricity, the paper asked if energy such as biomass thermal should be incorporated into a national clean energy program. While it’s true that a CES is unlikely to be passed this year or the next, the mention of biomass thermal will serve as the foundation for major energy bills in the future.

In Vermont, several events are helping to promote biomass, whether it is to heat the capitol area or to warm the rest of the state. Gov. Peter Shumlin has led this effort, first with the extension of a residential credit for biomass heating appliances, and now interest in promoting biomass thermal in the state’s Comprehensive Energy Plan. The Northeast Biomass Thermal Working Group mobilized residents to submit biomass heating recommendations before the comment period closed in mid-July. The CEP, when finalized, will serve as an integrated plan across all energy sectors for Vermont’s energy future, and, thanks to their contributions, biomass thermal players are more likely to see recognition.
Revisions to New Hampshire’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) have presented a similar opportunity to advance biomass heating in a program dominated by renewable electricity. When it was enacted in 2007, the New Hampshire legislature required the Public Utility Commission to review how well the RPS was meeting its public policy goals in 2011. That review is underway, and the PUC has accepted public comments on key questions, including whether to include incentives for thermal renewable energy. Again, efforts from the NEBTWG and the Biomass Thermal Energy Council helped rally and submit comments. The final report is due this fall.

Massachusetts’s turn toward biomass thermal is yet another example of progress across the nation. The state’s RPS revisions on "woody biomass eligibility," though focused on incentives for electric generation, were sent through public comment and the legislature's governing committee. Again, numerous comments from biomass thermal companies—coordinated in part by the NEBTWG—recommended a thermal component be included. In response, the legislative committee recognized the need for thermal incentives, indicating that thermally led projects represent "the most efficient use of finite woody biomass resources." Nevertheless, the committee indicated that the current RPS program was designed to promote new renewable sources of electric generation and suggested an "alternative energy portfolio standard be developed to promote thermal biomass development.” With this encouragement, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center issued a request for proposals to "characterize the opportunity for and the impacts of expanding adoption of renewable thermal technologies in the commonwealth of Massachusetts." An Opportunities and Impacts Study has to be completed by mid-September and an advisory on biomass thermal program opportunities by mid-October.

How we measure and view the progress made thus far in 2011 will help guide our efforts into 2012. Escalating federal and state budget deficits may temporarily diminish legislators’ appetites for tax credits, but there are numerous measures available, that will place biomass thermal in policy conversations and state requirements equal to that of solar, wind, hydroelectric and biopower. Coordination between national groups such as the BTEC and regional and state organizations will capitalize and reinforce our advances at all levels, from rural communities to D.C.

Author: Joseph Seymour
Acting Executive Director, Biomass Thermal Energy Council
(202) 596-3974
[email protected]