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Biomass Bill Gets Through One Big Green Light

Sacramento, CA — The Golden State is getting closer to fueling biomass plants with funding for the environmental and economic benefits they provide.

On Tuesday, as AB 590 unanimously passed the State Assembly, the members indicated their resounding approval for establishing a Biomass State Cost Share Account within the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund. The bill, whose primary sponsors are Republican District 1 Assemblymember Bill Dahle and Democratic District 32 Assemblymember Rudy Salas, received its first reading in the Senate the same day and was assigned to the Standing Committee on Rules.

“It’s really good news, with the Rim Fire and all the many millions of tons [of biomass] up there that could be used for biomass generation,” states Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors Chair John Gray. “It just makes so much more sense to burn it efficiently than to light the fires in the forest — it burns a lot cleaner in the generators than when you try to burn it naturally. I hope that the Governor does sign the bill when it gets on his table.”

As previously reported, the board unanimously voted at its May 19 meeting to send a supportive letter for AB 590. Much more than helping fuel Rim Fire recovery efforts, Gray says the legislation will boost efforts to create “green” electricity from biomass brought down by truckloads from local forests.

The dedicated biomass account would allocate funds for biomass plants to be compensated for the benefits they have produced for well over two decades by processing forest, wood and agricultural waste that might otherwise be open burned, buried in landfills, or left as forest overgrowth to potentially fuel wildfires. There are currently 25 such plants across 20 state counties, down from a high of 66. The industry, which has demonstrated its ability to provide renewable and notably reliable utility scale power, has been greatly hampered for reasons that include fuel costs and outdated power purchase agreements.

A “poster child” example, as Gray points out, “We have our own local biomass plant in Chinese Camp, and I believe, their contract with PG&E is up in 2016. With a subsidy being available, I think it would allow them to operate and provide good, inexpensive electricity.”