Biomass in 2014: A Look Ahead

The new year will be a big one for biomass, according to Biomass Power Association President Bob Cleaves. As 2014 begins, Cleaves takes a look ahead at the decisions that stand to affect the industry over the coming year.
By Bob Cleaves | December 19, 2013

The new year will be a big one for biomass. As we begin 2014, I thought I would take a look ahead at the decisions that stand to affect our industry over the coming year, and important events to look out for. 

First of all and perhaps most important, the U.S. EPA carbon accounting rule has a final deadline of July. This means that, by summer, we will know how—or whether—EPA will regulate biogenic carbon emissions from biomass under the Clean Air Act. 

The long-awaited rule has been through many twists and turns over the course of becoming final. After an admittedly premature implementation in 2011, EPA requested more time to study the science behind the biomass carbon cycle, deferring the rule three years to allow for a proper carbon accounting by a scientific advisory board. 

This deferral was challenged by environmental groups that wanted the original rules to go into effect immediately. The challenge set in motion a chain of legal events, a full detailing of which would make your head spin. 

Here we are three years later, the final rule imminent within the next few months. The industry has made a thorough case that, taking into account the life cycle of carbon including carbon consumed during photosynthesis, the net carbon impact of using wood residue for fuel in a biomass facility is, in many cases, better than carbon neutral. We are confident that the science is on our side, and cautiously hopeful that the final rule will reflect this and be acceptable to the industry. 

Another EPA activity to keep an eye on is its Section 111(d) listening tour and any resulting regulation. In September, the agency announced its first initiative in direct response to President Obama’s Climate Action Plan unveiled last summer. To make the largest impact possible, EPA decided to first target the largest source of carbon emissions: grid-connected power. 

The agency plans to work with state environmental regulators to “identify innovative, pragmatic approaches that build on the leadership that many states have already shown to cut carbon pollution from the power sector.” Biomass, especially coal cofiring and combined-heat-and-power facilities, stands to make a big impact here as an adaptable and reliable energy source that can dramatically reduce carbon emissions. 

I encourage anyone reading this to participate as much as possible when the EPA schedules listening tour events in or around your region. We need to use this opportunity to drive home the environmental and economic benefits of biomass. 

Finally, 2014 will bring the second National Bioenergy Day. The first one, which occurred in October, was a big success, with 25 events across the country and dozens of positive media stories. We want to make next year’s Bioenergy Day even more successful, so I hope we can increase participation. Keep an eye out for more information on National Bioenergy Day 2014.

Happy New Year—it will be an eventful one for our industry. 

Author: Bob Cleaves
President and CEO, Biomass Power Association