BPA holds media call in advance of EPA biomass workshop

By Erin Voegele | April 06, 2016

On April 6, the Biomass Power Association held a media call in advance of the U.S. EPA’s June 7 workshop on biomass and the Clean Power Plan. During the call, the BPA outlined EPA actions needed to support states with thriving biomass industries or the potential for biomass, ensuring they can fully utilize bioenergy technology to meet carbon reduction goals.

Bob Cleaves, president of the BPA, opened the call by discussing how low natural gas prices are pushing down the price of electricity and causing significant headwinds for the biomass power industry. On top of that, he said paper mills are closing at an alarming rate. Over the past 24 months, five paper mills have closed in Maine alone, he said, noting mill closures have resulted in the loss of approximately 5,000 good paying rural jobs.

According to Cleaves, making sure EPA provides regulatory certainty and the right kind of market signals is of vital importance to the biomass industry. “We can’t just be a nation of solar and wind,” he said, noting that biomass provides not only a form of renewable energy, but rural jobs, healthy forests and baseload power.

Regarding the role of biomass under the CPP, Cleaves said the BPA continues stress the fact that 37 states and Washington, D.C., have mandatory renewable portfolio standards (RPS) in pace, and all those standards recognize biomass as a qualifying resource. “If it’s good enough for 37 states and the District of Columbia, it should be good enough for EPA,” he said.

Cleaves also notes that biomass has been recognized in the federal tax code, along with other renewable technologies, as a qualifying renewable resource since 2004. 

According to Cleaves, the BPA disagrees with the EPA’s suggestion that it should develop its own preapproved qualified list of biomass resources. The reason is really simple, he said, noting the administration has been very clear that the CPP is not a top-down initiative. Rather, it wants to respect and defer to the judgements of states in implementing technologies and solutions that are unique to those states. “Right now we have approximately 45 state law definitions of biomass, and I think it’s fair to say those definitions are somewhat tailored to those unique state resources.” We don’t think it appropriate for EPA try to create one uniform definition, he added. According to Cleaves, BPA thinks the EPA should honor state definitions of biomass. In the absence of a state definition, the EPA should look to Section 45 of the Internal Revenue Code.

Regarding criticism from environmental groups regarding these production of biomass energy, Cleaves said even NGOs who protest biomass in general have acknowledged the benefits of low-value and waste biomass. Cleaves also stressed the BPA doesn’t embrace their anti-biomass views, but rather thinks “the bottom line is that as long as forests stay healthy and carbon stocks are increasing, that all is good, but it’s very clear to us that when it comes to materials that aren’t “harvested” and that are residues or byproducts of another undertaking…those materials should be used for their highest and best use, and frequently, that is to make electricity.”

One issue that has been delaying progress on the EPA’s draft framework for biogenic carbon emissions is related to the timeline over which carbon debt and carbon dividends should be measured. The wood products industry is pushing for a 100 year timeline. Cleaves said that issue is unlikely to be resolved at the April 7 workshop. In fact, it may take years to resolve. He noted that both sides of the academic isle hold very strong views on the timeline issue, and it’s currently unclear how long it will take to resolve. Rather, Cleaves said the BPA is hoping the EPA offers a statement during the workshop that acknowledges that low-value and waste residuals have clear carbon benefits.

Additional information on the EPA’s April 7 workshop can be found on the agency’s website.