The biomass power industry in California has had some hard years lately, with falling energy prices and providers who have scaled back or shut down amid lower demand from utilities.
To help the fledgling industry grow – owing to the importance of biomass as a way to lower carbon emissions – California Governor Jerry Brown just signed into law a bill designed to support new and existing biomass plants.
The law, formerly SB 859, is part of a total package worth $900 million to support renewables and lower carbon emissions via cap-and-trade funds. These funds are being used to help disadvantaged communities by taking advantage of carbon emission-reducing programs, as well as supporting clean transportation and protecting ecosystems.
Under the law, utilities in the state will have to enter into five-year contracts for energy production from biomass facilities, to the tune of 125 MW. Much of the biomass will come from harvested wood from zones prone to high fire hazards.
One trade group, the California Biomass Energy Alliance, spoke out in favor of the new law. “The governor understands the importance of the biomass industry as it pertains to the state’s renewable energy portfolio standard and the eradication of dead and dying trees from high hazard fire zones,” said Julee Malinowski-Bal.
“Most importantly,” she added, “this law protects hundreds of jobs, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and promotes long-term forest management goals.”
The new law is similar to legislation passed in Oregon and Maine over the past 12 months to boost biomass industries in those states. Part of the reason these initiatives could be successful in helping the industry is by effectively subsidizing them by contractually guaranteeing biomass energy will be purchased by utilities.
Until the industry is completely self-sufficient, mandates such as the one in SB 859 will be necessary and will likely be seen in other states over the next 2-3 years.