Mass. DOER explains woody biomass fuel regulation changes

By Anna Simet | May 16, 2012

The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources held a webinar May 16 to explain changes made in its proposed final woody biomass regulations released at the end of April.

Dwayne Breger, director of renewable energy development at DOER, went over several key provisions, including eligible forest biomass, biomass fuel certificates and certificate registry, overall efficiency criteria, carbon accounting, annual compliance of generation units and provisions for under compliance, as well as treatment of previously qualified biomass units.

Breger clarified the definition of eligible woody biomass fuel, pointing out that it will fall under one of three categories for the purpose of carbon accounting: forest thinnings, forest residue, and non-forest residue. Forest thinning removal is restricted, but tops and branches are allowed—with more restrictions—as well as thinnings performed for the purpose of invasive species and forest salvage from pests or storms.

A broad range of non-forest residue qualifies, including dedicated energy crops, but they have to be planted on previously non-forested marginal land, according to Breger. No construction and demolition woody material is eligible, he added, and no removal from old growth forests or steep slopes.

One restriction on the removal of forest biomass is based on soil conditions. “For good soils, we do require that at least 25 percent of tops and branches need to be retained on site; 75 can be removed as eligible biomass fuel,” Breger said. “For poor soils, 100 percent need to be retained on site …”

Removal limits are applied on each section of the harvest that has different soil conditions. For small harvests, 50 acres or less, removal regulations are based on the averaging of soil conditions present on the site.

The rules also include two types of fuel certificates: forest derived and non-forest derived. Each specifies fuel source, tracks the harvest location, the forester or harvester responsible for the harvest, and specifies if the fuel is a thinning or residue or percentages of each.

Once fuel certificates are printed out and make their way to a fuel aggregator or generation unit, they will be uploaded to an electronic biomass certificate registry and then designated as one certificate for each ton of fuel.  Breger said the electronic registry isn’t available yet, but it will be as soon as regulations are promulgated.

Certificate pathways also come with restrictions and they need to be bundled with fuel, Breger said. He cited the three pathways as being directly from the fuel source to generation unit without mixing, travelling from the source of biomass to fuel retailer wherein the certificate would accompany delivery of the fuel directly to generation unit, and the trading of certificates between qualified units.

Overall efficiency eligibility thresholds have also changed from the proposed regulations, Breger said. For standard technologies, the overall efficiency has been increased from 40 percent to 50 percent to receive half of a renewable energy certificate (REC). “That increases linearly until 60 percent is met for full REC value,” he said, adding that the DOER added a provision wherein advanced biomass conversation technologies that achieve 40 percent efficiency can earn half of a REC. These include advancements in fuel-to-energy conversions, fuel processing and emissions control.

As far as greenhouse gas (GHG) accounting for biomass units, the threshold has not changed from draft regulations. Breger cited Manomet study findings, which are the basis for the DOER’s regulations, and said a generating unit needs to demonstrate a 50 percent reduction in GHGs over two years, relative to a natural gas combined-cycle unit. The Manomet study found that woody biomass releases more carbon per unit of energy than some fossil fuels and natural gas, but pays that debt as carbon is resequestered by forests.

The DOER will use a carbon deficit function analysis supported by the Manomet report, Breger said. Accounting will be based on overall efficiency, displaced fuels and biomass fuel use. On a quarterly basis, overall efficiency calculations must be demonstrated and verified by a third party to be eligible for RECs, and on an annual basis, a generating unit must file with the DOER to demonstrate compliance with GHG thresholds.

And there is a new provision for under compliance, Breger said. “We do realize a unit may try its best but come up short…we realize the importance of project development and financing, so you’re not automatically kicked out of the program if you can’t meet the 50 percent threshold…” In that case, the DOER will determine what threshold the unit did meet and the unit will have to make an under compliance payment, which will equate to 50 cents times the percent under compliance per REC. “For example, if a generation unit reaches 40 percent as opposed to 50, they are 10 percent under and will pay $5 per REC for their under compliance payment,” he explained.   

That money will be payed to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and used as directed by DOER for residue fuel supply infrastructure and tree planting. The unit will then enter probationary status for five years, and be required to take rigorous steps to assure it is making headway to compliance, demonstrating that more of the fuel supply is contracted from residue sources. The probationary status will be waived, however, if over compliance offsets under compliance, or if compliance is met for three consecutive years.

Breger touched on a slight change in treatment of previously qualified units, as regulations now allow all units to maintain qualification through 2012, and through 2014 if they provide DOER with a fuel supply plan and utilize eligible woody fuel as demonstrated through ownership of biomass fuel certificates. In 2016, all facilities must reach set thresholds.

To access a detailed summary of the proposed final regulation, click here.

The DOER will accept written public comments on the regulations from May 19 to June 18. Those interested in submitting them electronically may do so in pdf format and email them to [email protected]