Golden opportunities in the golden state

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Courtesy of BioCycle Magazine

California can be a tough place to do business, but a number of new policies are in place to make it easier to develop bioenergy projects. In 2012, the state adopted a new Bioenergy Action Plan and passed several laws to promote electricity and biogas production from organic waste. With pending legislation on organics diversion and new incentives for bioenergy, California is poised for explosive growth in the industry. The Bioenergy Association of California (BAC) was recently launched to help shape and promote these policies to grow the industry and maximize bioenergy’s many benefits.

California has the most ambitious recycling, renewable energy and low carbon fuel requirements in the nation. Yet the state produces only 2 percent of its electricity from biomass and an even smaller percentage of its transportation fuels from organic waste. Despite some early successes for biomass and biofuels in the 1980s and 1990s, new bioenergy development in California had largely stalled. High costs, environmental concerns and other sustainability issues all hurt the industry. The recent focus on solar and wind power, combined with low natural gas prices, has not helped either.

But, bioenergy development is back in gear in the state, due primarily to political and industry leadership. In Sacramento, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recognized the many benefits of bioenergy and adopted an Executive Order in 2006 and other policies to promote it. He set ambitious targets for biomass and biofuels and brought state agencies together to achieve those targets. California’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act (passed in 2006), also relies heavily on bioenergy to capture methane emissions, produce low carbon fuels, reduce organic waste and maintain forest carbon sequestration. The Brown Administration and California Legislature have expanded on these initiatives and California is now, finally, poised for major growth in the bioenergy industry.

The market potential is enormous. The California Energy Commission has calculated that bioenergy could provide 44,300 gigawatt hours of renewable electricity in California. That’s nearly 6,000 megawatts (MW), or 10 percent, of California’s total electricity capacity. California currently generates about 1,000 megawatts of electricity and 48 million gallons of biofuels from organic waste and biogas emissions.  With the organic waste and biogas emissions currently available in the state, bioenergy could produce an additional 5,000 MW of renewable electricity or 1.37 billion gasoline gallon equivalents of biofuels for motor vehicles and other purposes. New bioenergy development could produce more than 15,000 new, full-time jobs in California — which is a lot, even in California — and provide a much needed economic boost, especially in rural areas of the state with few economic alternatives. In fact, bioenergy produces more construction jobs per megawatt than fossil fuels, and more operations and maintenance (O&M) and fuel treatment jobs than any other form of energy (Kammen et al, 2004).

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