Lawmakers ask EPA to approve RFS pathway for biomass power

By Erin Voegele | June 28, 2018

A bipartisan delegation of California lawmakers is urging the U.S. EPA to resolve any issues that prevent biomass and waste-to-energy pathways from receiving the same level of support as other forms of energy under the Renewable Fuel Standard.

The lawmakers sent a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on June 11 asking the agency to take quick action to process biomass and waste-to-energy pathways submitted under the RFS, and to solve any outstanding programmatic issues that stand in the way of allowing these sources of energy to receive the same support afforded to other forms of energy.

“Approving and registering biomass-derived electricity is important to our state and consistent with your message in Manchester, New Hampshire, earlier this year when you voiced your support of biomass and also in your recent announcement of EPA’s consideration of biomass a carbon neutral source of energy,” the lawmakers wrote. “Biomass is an important component of our state’s forest products economy, providing markets for low-value organic material that would otherwise be discarded or landfilled.”

According to the letter, biomass is especially critical in the state of California, which is experiencing an unprecedented tree mortality crisis. “As users of low-value wood fibers, biomass power facilities are an important component of forest management, enabling the productive and environmentally sound use of debris cleared out of forests to reduce forest fire risk,” the letter states. “Unfortunately, the biomass power industry in our state is experiencing its own difficulties, with over half the fleet currently idled due to a transformed power market partially due to lopsided federal support for other renewables like wind and solar. California has enacted the BioRAM policy requiring utilities to purchase a certain amount of biomass power, which has been helpful—but EPA action approving the qualification of biomass power under the RFS is sorely needed to keep these facilities online and contributing to ongoing forest management and fire prevention efforts.”

The letter is signed by Reps. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif.; John Garamendi, D-Calif.; Paul Cook, R-Calif.; Raul Ruiz, D-Calif.; Dana Rorabacher, R-Calif.; Mimi Walters, R-Calif.; Devin Nunes, R-Calif.; and David G. Valadao, R-Calif.

“As a carbon-neutral source of energy, biomass is a clean energy alternative that California should be taking full advantage of,” said LaMalfa in a statement issued June 27. “With millions of dead trees that increase the risk of forest fires, clearing them out and converting them into usable energy is a win for everyone involved. The problem is, biomass isn’t treated equally when compared to other renewable fuels, and its hurting producers. That’s why my colleagues and I are asking Administrator Pruitt to afford biomass energy production with the same level of federal support as corn ethanol and other agricultural fuels. Biomass gives low-value organic material a beneficial use, and our rural economies and fire-prone forests will greatly benefit from a more even playing field.”

“The biggest challenge for renewable biomass generation is the lack of equal treatment among all forms of renewable generation,” added Steve Mueller, president of ARP-Loyalton Cogen. “Wind and solar receive ITC’s/PTC’s which substantially reduce the delivered price/KwHr.  Including biomass generation within the existing RFS program will help level this playing field in the near term while ITC’s and PTC’s are phased out. Thank you, Congressman LaMalfa, for your efforts on behalf of our industry.”