California Senate bill gives biomass industry a boost

Posted on: Sep 16, 2016 - 12:01 PM | General
Author: Staff
Biomass facilities across the state banked their future on Gov. Jerry Brown's signing of Senate Bill 859 on Wednesday, which gives energy providers incentive to consider bioenergy and purchase electricity from those plants.

The bill will allow bioenergy plants to stay in business or at least that is the hope. Contract negotiations between power companies and bioenergy plants will work out the details of who will stay afloat. Current contracts with power companies with will term out by the end of this year, leaving many biomass plants scrambling to sign new deals.

SB 859, along with Assembly Bill 1613 signed on Wednesday, provides direction on the spending of $900 million in cap-and-trade funding. SB 859 gives bioenergy the type of incentive solar and wind power enjoys.

Bioenergy is produced from harvested wood and sold to energy providers, like Pacific Gas & Electric in the North State, which purchased 92 percent of all bioenergy in the state last year, said PG&E spokesman Paul Moreno.

Coupled with drought, wildfires and bark beetle infestation in the Sierra National Forest, the need for an option to dispose of wood fuels is at an all-time high and biomass is a natural fit say proponents of the SB 859.

Assemblyman Brian Dahle, R-Bieber, said the need to support biomass facilities has been a concern of his for some time. Thanks to SB 859 at least 400-450 jobs in the biomass industry are saved in the North State, including plant operators and truck drivers hauling lumber from forests.

The language to support the biomass industry was added at the last minute to SB 859, which also looks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from dairies and farms.

"I knew we were coming up to a deadline with the utility providers. We've been working on this nonstop," said Dahle.

Contracts will term out again in five years and the biomass industry will be in a similar situation as it was last week, unless proponents can find a place for bioenergy in California's future. Dahle has requested to be part of a group that would work toward that goal.

About 400,000 acres in the Sierra National Forest are at least 80 percent dead, said Carolyn Ballard, fire chief with the Sierra National Forest. With SB 859, the bioenergy industry provided a solution for all that fuel.

"It's some of the best news we've heard in a while," said Ballard. "We have a lot of volume (of fuels) and we would like to move them off."

The details of contracts between the biomass facilities, power companies and National Forest service were not mentioned in the Senate bill. Instead all of that will have to be worked out between those key players.

There is a ticking clock element: New contracts will expire at the end of this year and winter conditions will make forest roads useless to truck drivers trying to haul two-ton trees.

Critics of previous biomass programs involving cap-and-trade dollars have resulted in lawsuits filed against state agencies. Criticisms point out cap-and-trade dollars should not go to generate revenue for the state or any industry.

Dahle invited legislators to the North State to see biomass plants and what their closing could mean for the local economy.

"We went to see the Burney Forest Power and saw what they are accomplishing. Without the provisions of SB 859, the biomass industry cannot compete with wind or solar power. We need to make them competitive," Dahle said.

In August, Burney Forest Power issued a 60-day notice to its 25 employees that it would cease operations around September. The biomass facility sells its steam to Shasta Green, which then sells its wood waste to Burney Forest Power. Shasta Green has a staff of about 100 employees and would face difficulties without the steam from Burney Forest Power.

Dahle adds that the Senate bill is the work of bipartisan efforts and credits the Speaker of the Assembly and other legislators.

Representatives with Burney Forest Power would not comment as the company is in contract negotiations with PG&E.

SB 859 does not guarantee a contract for every plant. Some facilities will stay open, while others will sink in the competitive market.

Julee Malinowski-Ball, executive director of the California Biomass Energy Alliance, said the state's efforts paint a bright future for the industry.

"I think it's just the start of a much longer-term solution. Biomass (plants) are taking waste material out of the agricultural fields and out of landfills, as well. Today, we need these facilities in place for a short-term problem."

PMoreno said the bidding process for biomass facilities will be ongoing, but he could not provide any details.

"We are sensitive to the hardships that the drought, fires and bark beetles have caused the forest leading to extensive damage and creation of fuels," Moreno said.

SB 859 requires power companies across the state to take a share of 125 megawatts of biomass energy on their books. Before there was the Bio-Renewable Auction Mechanism, which required 50 megawatts to be on the books. Many considered that the precursor to what was signed on Wednesday.


Source: Record SearchLight