The biomass industry had an interesting 2015. The EPA held back on definitive rulings on carbon emissions for the industry, and more energy was produced by biomass than in previous years.
As we begin 2016, it is time to look forward and see what is in store for the biomass industry for the next 12 months.
Biomass Co-firing to Grow
Thanks to the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan (via the EPA), the incidence of biomass co-firing could increase in 2016.
This is due to increased regulations and restrictions on traditional coal, which are leading many coal-fired plants and their producers toward a more affable solution: reduced emissions from biomass co-firing.
Already, some plants across the nation have seriously considered shifting from pure coal to a mixture of coal and biomass pellets. This will involve some infrastructure changes – boilers need to be converted to handle biomass, and fuel handling systems must be modified as well – but the overall benefit is lower emissions and, more importantly, compliance with the EPA.
Biomass to Face Multitude of Regulations
The Clean Power Plan was instrumental in helping to advance biomass in 2015, but one thing it didn’t do was establish a national standard for biomass regulation.
While the EPA did endorse biomass as a viable, low-emissions energy source, it left the exact mechanics of regulations up to the states. In other words, the states themselves have the flexibility to determine how they will implement biomass in their energy mix. This could result in 50 different strategies for carbon reduction. Some states will include biomass, even featuring it heavily; others will not. As such, there is no cut-and-dry standard across the board, nor is there a recommendation for one.
Biomass Litigation Filed Against the EPA
The EPA helped advance biomass by recognizing the industry as a net positive for carbon emissions, but it did not support biomass as it did other sources of alternative energy.
Because of that, industry leaders have filed a petition for review against the EPA and the Clean Power Plan. They argue that “the Clean Power Plan does not put biomass on a level playing field with other renewable energy sources.” They also state that the CPP put unfair restrictions on the states and their ability to incorporate biomass into their carbon reduction strategies.
Industry experts participating in the lawsuit are advocating that biomass is not only a viable alternative, but a far superior alternative to traditional energy production because of its nature as a carbon-neutral and hyper-efficient resource. They argue that biomass shouldn’t be treated the same as fossil fuels because it helps to reduce carbon in the atmosphere.
It is not clear whether this lawsuit will succeed. Even if a review is mandated, substantial changes to the CPP are unlikely in 2016.
Preparing for Biomass in the Future
Biomass will likely grow in 2016 just as it did in 2015, but the exact nature of that growth has yet to be determined. For example, will there be more biomass co-firing implementation this year? It is difficult to say, but there are promising plans in place to create that environment throughout the nation over the next 12 months and beyond.
One thing is for certain: coal producers and biomass producers alike have a lot to monitor as the year moves on, particularly if current trends continue through the next presidential administration.