March 6, 2006

CALIFORNIA: Recommendations for a BioEnergy Action Plan

Editor's NOTE: The Final Version of the BioEnergy Action Plan was released in April, 2006. To view the final version, click here.


In Sacramento on March 9, 2006 the California Energy Commission is holding a public meeting and workshop to solicit public review and comments on a Draft BioEnergy Action Plan prepared by Navigant Consulting, Inc. under contract to the CEC. This document holds a key to understanding many of the issues facing California and offers insight into how the state may deal with them. The Table of Contents is broken down by Section including: Current Profile and Future Bioenergy Potential in California, The Benefits of Bioenergy, Impediments and Challenges, The Role of the State in Bioenergy, Recommendations for the California Bioenergy Action Plan.

On August 23, 2005, the Governor expressed his support for the California Biomass Collaborative and asked that the Bioenergy Interagency Working Group, composed of state agencies with important biomass connections, be reinvigorated. He asked the Working Group to develop an integrated and comprehensive state policy on biomass, which includes electricity, natural gas and petroleum substitution potential. The policy should also reflect the substantial potential benefits, such as reducing municipal solid waste, which a wide range of conversion technologies can capture. The Governor further asked the Energy Commission's Public Interest Energy Research Program to support this initiative.

The Bioenergy Interagency Working Group is comprised of: Air Resources Board, California Energy Commission, California Environmental Protection Agency, California Public Utilities Commission, California Resources Agency, Department of Food and Agriculture, Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Department of General Services, Integrated Waste Management Board, and the State Water Resources Control Board.

Anyone who is interested in participating in the expansion of bioenergy in the state should read the final version of this draft, when it becomes available. Below are some excerpts from the the Executive Summary of the draft:


Recommendations for a BioEnergy Action Plan

Bioenergy provides a range of strategic energy, economic, and environmental benefits to the people of California. Maximizing these benefits is the main objective of this Action Plan. Not only is greater use of bioenergy critical to achieving existing regulatory and policy objectives, such as the Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), greenhouse gas reduction targets, and non-petroleum transportation fuel targets, it addresses a range of state environmental goals and provides unique economic development benefits relative to other energy options.

California is a national leader in the production of biomass power. More than 4 million dry tons (MDT) of solid biomass were used in 2005 by 28 biomass power plants to generate 615 megawatts (MW) of baseload renewable energy. Another 360 MW was generated using landfill gas and biogas from sewage treatment, food processing waste, and animal waste digestion. Combined, these resources meet 2 percent of present total electric demand in the state and can produce as much electricity per year as about 2,500 MW of wind power.

California also leads the nation in the consumption of ethanol, a plant-based renewable transportation fuel, consuming more than 900 million gallons in 2005. This accounted for approximately 25 percent of all the ethanol produced in the United States in 2005. However, California produces less than 5 percent of the ethanol it consumes. California also consumed approximately 5 million gallons of biodiesel, a renewable, clean diesel substitute made from vegetable oils or animal fat in 2004.

California’s current use of bioenergy represents a small fraction of what is technically feasible. It is estimated that California has approximately 30 MDT of technically recoverable solid biomass resources – enough to power more than 3 million homes or produce enough biofuel to run more than 2 million automobiles at today’s efficiencies. These resources are derived mainly from residues associated with agriculture, forestry, municipal waste, representing a value-added use of materials that would otherwise be considered waste or that pose a significant threat to the California environment, such as the substantial deadfall and fuel overloadings that constitute extreme fire hazards in California’s forests and shrub lands. Despite the many benefits of using bioenergy, California’s existing bioenergy industry faces a range of technical, market, and regulatory challenges.

Consistent with the Governor’s direction, the recommendations contained in this Action Plan are intended to create the necessary institutional and regulatory changes that will substantially increase the production and use of bioenergy in California.The recommendations are founded on four broad policy objectives, which are to:

  • Create a positive environment, including the establishment of targets, for bioenergy production and consumption, and create the necessary impetus for investment in new facilities that use California’s abundant biomass resources.

  • Address areas where greater state agency coordination could enhance the opportunities for bioenergy products to contribute to a stable and economically competitive power and fuel supply in California, without sacrificing other state mandates such as environmental protection.

  • Enhance and accelerate California’s existing research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) programs to address all aspects of biomass resource production and use and to capture the benefits of new technologies that use biomass resources more cleanly, efficiently, and economically.

  • Promote awareness to inform the general public and policy makers of the importance and benefits of bioenergy.

  • California is at a crossroads regarding biofuels. With the elimination of the federal oxygenate requirements for gasoline in the Energy Policy Act (EPAct) of 2005, and the current lack of rules regarding the new Federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), absent other actions, ethanol use in California could decrease at a time when the strategic value of petroleum displacement has never been greater. The State of California needs to work to preserve this existing market while addressing emissions issues associated with ethanol use in gasoline. The state should also place stronger emphasis on commercializing new biofuels production technologies that can use California’s abundant biomass resources for biofuels production.


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