Air Board Adopts Plan to Phase Out Open Burning of Agricultural Waste in San Joaquin Valley

In late February, the California Air Resources Board approved a plan to phase out the open burning of agricultural waste in the San Joaquin Valley, California’s largest agricultural region.  Open burning, which has increased nearly 500% in the past several years, is a major source of air and climate pollution in the Valley.  In fact, open burning of agricultural and forest waste is one of the largest sources of black carbon emissions – a powerful Short-Lived Climate Pollutant that is 3200 times more damaging to the climate than carbon dioxide and is also very harmful to public health, crops, forests, and more.

The Air Board’s plan calls specifically for:

  • A Clean Biomass/Bioenergy Collaborative across state agencies
  • Increased funding for bioenergy and other alternatives to open burning
  • Increased production of liquid and gaseous fuels from agricultural waste

See:  CARB Approved Plan to Phase Out Ag Burning (Feb2021)

Governor Proposes California’s 2021-22 Budget

Governor Newsom has released his budget proposal for the remainder of FY 2021 and the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.  The Governor has proposed increased funding for wildfire mitigation, including funding for the use of forest waste, and for heavy duty vehicles.  The proposed budget also includes funding for Healthy Soils, agricultural engine replacement, restoration of natural lands, and a Climate Catalyst Fund to provide low cost financing for clean energy development and other purposes.  Unfortunately, the proposed budget does not include funding for organic waste diversion or dairy digesters.

The Governor’s January budget proposal is available here.

CA Board of Forestry Adopts Biomass Utilization Plan

On November 4, the California Board of Forestry adopted a forest biomass utilization plan that recommends many actions to put California’s extensive forest waste to beneficial re-use, including numerous bioenergy recommendations.  Some of the most important recommendations related to bioenergy are:

  • Consolidated permitting
  • State procurement of bioenergy
  • Inclusion of forest biomass in microgrid tariffs
  • Allocating 20% of electricity and gas R&D funding (EPIC and PIER) to forest biomass, including biomass to hydrogen projects
  • Adopting pipeline standards for biomass and hydrogen
  • Incentivizing both electricity and pipeline interconnection for forest biomass projects
  • Incentivizing use of forest biomass under the Low Carbon Fuel Standard
  • Increasing BioMAT category 3 (forest waste) to 250 MW and allowing Community Choice Aggregators (CCA’s) and publicly owned utilities to participate in the program
  • Requiring a portion of new RPS power to be baseload and flexible generation

Read:  Joint Institute Wood and Biomass Utilization Recommendations

BAC Comments on CPUC Microgrid Proposal

The CPUC’s Staff Proposal on Track 2 of the microgrid proceeding was very disappointing.  The Commission failed to propose requirements for microgrids to include a diverse portfolio of energy and storage sources, to transition to renewable fuels and cleaner technologies, to require long-duration energy storage, or to move beyond pilot scale programs.  BAC’s comments on the Staff Proposal urge the Commission to include bioenergy and other forms of baseload and flexible generation power and to add requirements for long-duration storage (which biogas and biomethane can provide), to move away from fossil fuels, and to expand the program beyond pilot projects.

See BAC Comments on Microgrid Track 2 Staff Proposal

CPUC Launches Microgrid Track 2

The CPUC is required by state law  to adopt a microgrid tariff and other policies to support microgrid development.  The CPUC recently adopted a decision implementing several short-term actions that are intended to expand the use of microgrids during the 2020 wildfire season.  The Commission also just issued a Staff Proposal on Track 2 of the proceeding, which addresses the need for a statewide microgrid tariff, expanded use of micrgrids to maintain power for essential services and other issues.

See CPUC’s Track 2 Microgrid Proposal

BAC’s Comments on Proposed BioMAT Decision

BAC submitted comments in support of the Proposed Decision on BioMAT, which is a 250 megawatt program required by state law (SB 1122, Rubio, 2012).  Most importantly, the Proposed Decision will extend the program end date to the end of 2025.  BAC also supports the Proposed Decision to increase flexibility for developers, set deadlines for utility’s, and to convert to a statewide program in recognition of the statewide benefits that BioMAT projects provide.

See BAC Comments on Proposed BioMAT Decision

CPUC Extends BioMAT Program, Adopts Important Changes

The CPUC voted 5-0 to extend the BioMAT program and make several critical changes to the program.  The CPUC’s Decision extends the program end date to the end of 2025.  This is critical since the utilities have only procured about 20 percent of the 250 megawatts required by the program.  The CPUC Decision also increases delivery flexibility for project developers, establishes deadlines for utilities to review project eligibility and approve contracts, and establishes a non-bypassable charge so that all rate-payers will share the costs of the program.  The CPUC proposed the non-bypassable charge in recognition of the fact that BioMAT projects provide important statewide benefits that all ratepayers should help to pay for, not just the purchasing utility’s customers.

See CPUC’s Proposed Decision on BioMAT (July 24, 2020), which was adopted by the Commission on August 28.

CPUC Votes to Re-Authorize EPIC Program

The CPUC voted unanimously to re-authorize the Electricity Program Investment Charge (EPIC) program for another ten years.  EPIC has provided about $165 million per year for the past decade to a variety of clean energy research, development, deployment, and market facilitation projects.  Many small-scale bioenergy projects have received EPIC funding to demonstrate new technologies, better quantify greenhouse gas reductions and other environmental benefits, improve pollution controls, and more.  In the past, the California Energy Commission has administered 80% of the EPIC funds and the utilities have administered the other 20%.  The CPUC’s Proposed Decision only re-authorizes the 80% of funding administered by the Energy Commission.  It will consider what the major funding categories should be and whether to re-authorize the utilties’ portion of funding in the next phase of the proceeding.

See CPUC’s Proposed Decision on EPIC Reauthorization, which was adopted on August 28.

BAC Comments on EPIC Re-Authorization

The CPUC has launched a proceeding to consider whether to re-authorize the $165 million per year Electricity Program Investment Charge (EPIC) program.  The program was created by the CPUC in 2012 to replace the Public Goods Charge.  The California Energy Commission and electric utilities administer the program, which is focused on clean energy R&D, technology demonstration and deployment, and market facilitation.  EPIC funding has helped accelerate development of next generation bioenergy projects, using cleaner and more efficient technologies and producing beneficial byproducts like biochar.  EPIC funding has also helped to better quantify and reduce emissions from bioenergy facilities to continue to increase the benefits and minimize impacts.

See, R.19-10-005 BAC Comments on EPIC Scoping Memo

BAC Comments on CPUC’s BioMAT Staff Proposal

BAC filed comments on the CPUC’s BioMAT Staff Proposal to support the proposal and request clarification of several items.  The most important changes recommended in the Staff Proposal would:

  • Extend the end date to the end of 2025
  • Increase operational flexibility and revise burdensome penalty provisions
  • Make the program a statewide program

BAC supported these changes and requested that they apply to existing BioMAT contracts.  BAC also asked for clarification on the proposed greenhouse gas modeling.  And BAC has asked the CPUC to remove the utility service territory restriction as part of the move to make the BioMAT a statewide program.

See BAC Comments on BioMAT Staff Proposal (March 2020).