Converting Biomass into Energy: The Responsible Way to Meet California’s Forest Management and Greenhouse Gas Reduction Goals

By Rich Gordon, President, Calforests

The topic of how best to deal with forest waste represents a major conundrum for California policymakers.

Simply leaving biomass to rot on the forest floor emits harmful pollutants, including methane, while open pile burning also sends gases into the air. The bottom line is that both these options are decidedly counter-productive to California’s greenhouse gas goals. We can and we must do better.

That is why Calforests has spent the last several years delving deeper into this policy matter. During that time, we discovered that there certainly are alternative uses for biomass, including its potential for use in new wood products. At present, though, there is no market for mass timber that would make its production economical.

So where does that leave us? Well, in short it leaves us with another not only viable, but responsible alternative that our state can pursue.

Turning biomass into energy remains the most effective alternative to current practices. An important analysis by Bruce Springsteen of the Placer County Air Pollution Control District shows that biomass facilities are the least polluting alternative for the current use of biomass. Unfortunately, some state officials do not share that viewpoint.

That is why we have ramped up our advocacy efforts on this critical issue, calling for existing facilities to be maintained with long-term energy purchase contracts, as well as the expansion of such facilities. In fact, we sponsored legislation – SB 515 (Caballero) – this year that would expand options for the purchase of material for the BioRam contractors from the high hazard zones to very high, high, and moderate designations on the FRAP map. The bill has since been amended but remains alive and we are intent on working with Senator Caballero to restore some of the elements that were removed.

While touting the benefits of biomass utilization is no easy task, the administration of Governor Newsom has provided our industry with a measure of optimism. It is no secret his administration is committed to a significant increase in forest management projects and recognizes that California’s carbon goals will not be met without additional biomass energy production. The administration’s leadership in working to figure out a path forward on biomass is encouraging and we are pleased with the discussions that have taken place to date.

In the meantime, Calforests is engaged in organizing a broad coalition of interests to demonstrate to the Newsom administration and other state officials that key California groups firmly believe we can meet our forest management and greenhouse gas reduction goals when we turn biomass into energy.

Its time to expand efforts aimed at converting biomass into energy.