Status of Biomass Energy in California
In the late 1980s California hosted 63 biomass power plants producing more than 900 megawatts. Since 1992 the industry has declined 40 percent, with just 28 operating plants producing about 550 megawatts annually. (One megawatt can meet the needs of about 1,000 homes.)
In California, the cost of removing woody biomass from the forest is often too expensive to be feasible. It often requires a subsidy from the landowner or the removal of other higher value products, such as saw logs, to be cost effective. Solar energy, even with all the tax credits and subsidies, costs about 15 cents per kilo-watt which four times the cost of electricity produced from natural gas-fired power plants.
A cost effective source of readily available woody biomass can be found at sawmills in the form of bark, sawdust, wood chips, wood shavings and cull logs. This material is currently utilized in a number of markets including fuel for power plants, landscape amendments, compost, animal bedding, pulp and panel board.
There is plenty of biomass material available from forests. However, opposition to harvesting and thinning on forestlands continues to be a major obstacle to bioenergy production. Removal of materials from our neglected public forests on a broader scale can help make bioenergy economically feasible.