Federal Policy Holds Key to Significant Progress in 2012

By Rona Johnson | November 22, 2011

As is our tradition, the December issue of Biomass Power & Thermal is an opportunity for us to reminisce about the passing year, and to ponder what the new year might bring. It’s clear when you read the Outlook and Project Development features in this month’s magazine that most biomass businesses had a good year, and that federal policy will be the main thing holding the biomass industry back in the new year.

While developers are eager to start producing biomass energy, they are being hampered by a lack of funding. The problem is that the financial community is mainly waiting for the U.S. EPA’s boiler Maximum Achievable Control Technology final, final rules and the agency’s decision regarding the treatment of biogenic emissions. Then there’s the Energy Title in the Farm Bill, which is supposed to be reduced by $23 billion over the next 10 years.

I don’t believe the entire Energy Title will be wiped out, but there may be some reductions. How that plays out is anyone’s guess at this point. In the meantime, it is up to the biomass industry to tell lawmakers about programs such as the Biomass Crop Assistance Program and the impact it has made and will continue to make in rural America. As I’ve said before, it will create economic opportunities not just for landowners but for custom harvesters, truckers, equipment suppliers, not to mention the indirect benefits for restaurants, grocery stores and other main street businesses in communities where the biomass is being produced, collected, delivered and processed.

Then there’s the Rural Energy for America Program, which according to Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., will likely be retained in the Farm Bill. Klobuchar, who is a member of the Senate ag committee, spoke on Nov. 7 at a conference in Fargo, N.D. Let’s hope she’s right.

The good news is that the renewable energy industry is not sitting back waiting for the outcome. In October, the Agriculture Energy Coalition was formed to fight for a strong bipartisan Energy Title in the Farm Bill. The coalition sent a letter to leaders of the House and Senate ag committees, urging them to support ag- and forestry-based energy programs and policies in the new Farm Bill. The letter mentions BCAP, REAP, the Biorefinery Assistance Program and the Biobased Markets Program, and the fact that they have helped finance thousands of renewable energy projects across rural America. “Programs are generally over-subscribed and show no signs of abating even as the economy has slowed,” the letter states.

The letter also points out that the total outlays for the Energy Title amount to less than 1 percent of all the programs authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill.

As you can guess, the Biomass Power Association, American Biogas Council, Biomass Thermal Energy Council, the 25x’25 Alliance and many others are members of the coalition.