August 16, 2008

California "discriminates" against thermochemical CTs

Aligned with the goals of the California Bioenergy Action Plan there is a new amendment to a California Senate Bill (SB 1252) that seeks to expand the range of technologies that are sanctioned for the conversion of green and municipal waste into biofuels. It would, for instance, "greenlight" projects like the new BlueFire Ethanol demonstration facility being built in Lancaster, CA.

Coming AFTER the recently awarded conditional use permit for BlueFire Energy by the Los Angeles Public Utilities Commission the amendment to SB 1252 appears to be a begrudging acknowledgement that public support for innovative technologies that convert waste into biofuels is on the rise. Better jump on the public opinion train before it leaves the station.

Unfortunately, the wording in the amendment is highly selective in defining what kind of conversion technologies are now acceptable. Simply put, cold technologies are now in but hot technologies are still out. This is nothing unique, according to Dr. Kay Martin, one of most respected advocates for California waste management reform and a member of the Bioenergy Producers Association (BPA):
Aside from this bill, the same kind of discriminatory embargo of "high-temperature" technologies appears in two other bills, AB 2640 (Huffman) and AB 2866 (DeLeon), each of which exclude these technologies from state grant funding eligibility. The BPA drafted "oppose unless amended" letters to the authors of these bills as well (see SB 1252 response below).

The bottom line is that there is an unavoidable recognition that significant new landfill diversion in CA requires new tools--but there is also a pervasive bias for composting, and an enduring blockade of any proposals that facilitate development of thermal processes that utilize MSW feedstock.

Apparently, the California legislature will have to be shamed by other states into accepting thermochemical remedies before it will permit deployment here. Besides killing investment initiative, it appears to be a blatant attempt to curb municipal interest in these technologies. Courageously, Los Angeles utilities who are looking into the barrel of its landfill crisis are moving ahead with their evaluation and likely deployment of thermochemical solutions without the State legislature's "blessing."

The California legislature, like its Ninth Circuit Court, are playing politics with issues that are technological in substance. This is becoming increasingly true as concern about energy, the environment, and global warming "heat up." Ironically, it is the "progressive" aisle that is being used to stop innovation while the conservatives want to spur development in new conversion technologies.

In view of the urgency of the drivers of change (national security, oil dependence, greenhouse gas emissions, balance of trade, fuel carbon content, revamping the energy infrastructure, etc.) it seems to be a poor time for the legislature to be exclusionary of a range of thermochemical conversion technologies that are already being used in Europe and Asia - not to mention advocated and incentivized for development funding by the U.S. Congress and Department of Energy.

In February, I attended the annual Renewable Fuels Association conference in Orlando Florida. One of the keynote speeches was given by Peter Hart of Hart Research Associates - a national polling firm. He reported that a recent poll his company ran asked the question:
In which approach should we invest the most resources and efforts to address our energy problems?

The response in favor of advancing new technologies was overwhelming.
• 51% said we should "Invent our way out of the problem: develop renewable sources."
• 28% responded "Conserve our way out of the problem: energy efficiency, conservation policies/programs."
• 17% said "Drill/mine our way out of the problem: find domestic fossil fuel sources."

Not surprisingly, most Americans believe that technological innovation is the best way to go - for developing renewable sources and energy efficiency. That should be especially true in California where many of the significant paradigm shifts of the last century have been successfully germinated, researched, nurtured, funded, marketed, and deployed. For the Senate to play politics with technological innovation is distinctly unAmerican and, I would submit, un-Californian.

In light of the profound stimulus for biofuels development contained in the 2007 U.S. Energy Bill (aka, EISA), now is the time to pull all the stops restricting innovation that provides solution to our energy, environment, and global warming challenges. This amendment should greenlight thermochemical solutions to waste management in addition to the cold ones currently mentioned.

For the California Air Resources Board to draft a Climate Change Scoping Plan that targets waste management but excludes thermochemical conversion technologies from being an "arrow in the quiver" is short-sighted and political non-science.

Below is a letter sent to the authors of the amendment by the BioEnergy Producers Association that succinctly states their concern about the anti-thermochemical technology bias contained in the bill. Will the California legislature drive the train or continue to wait in the station as other states take advantage of our profligate waste of initiative?

An open letter from the Bioenergy Producers Association

To: Senator Don Perata
California State Senate

RE: SB 1252 - OPPOSE

The BioEnergy Producers Association is an alliance of companies dedicated to the environmentally sensitive manufacture of advanced biofuels, chemicals and green power from agricultural, forestry and urban biomass and plastic wastes. Among others, our membership includes electric utilities, waste haulers, biobased technology providers, engineering and consulting firms from all areas of the state.

The technologies we advocate, which include thermochemical/biochemical processes, represent California’s best hope for creating alternatives to its escalating costs of motor fuel and electricity, and its dependence on foreign petroleum. These new technologies could potentially produce 2.7 billion gallons of advanced biofuels and 2,500 MW of power from the 42 million tons of post-recycled municipal solid waste that are being placed in California’s landfills each year.

As more than 100 of these projects are now operating in Europe and Asia, and the Department of Energy is investing millions of dollars through grants and loan guarantees to introduce these technologies commercially in the United States, it is mystifying why the California legislature has so consistently, and for so long, refused to take action to encourage investment in, and expedite the implementation of, these technologies in this state. Indeed, it has established a pattern of direct economic and legislative discrimination against these technologies.

The latest example is SB 1252, of which you have just become a co-author. Here is why:

1. The definition for "lignocellulosic ethanol processing," as incorporated in SB 1252, is inaccurate, in that it is specifically limited to, and reserved for, the sugar platform via acid or enzymatic hydrolysis. The definition fails to recognize that ethanol can also be efficiently and economically produced from cellulosic materials through the biological fermentation of syngas in an engineered and controlled environment. The recognition of multiple technologies and pathways for ethanol production is consistent with the Bioenergy Action Plan and central to the objectives of AB 118 and the Low Carbon Fuel Standard.

2. The bill is discriminatory on its face by favoring one production pathway (the sugar platform) and technology (hydrolysis/fermentation) over all others. The granting of reduced permitting standards (transfer/processing station) and diversion credit to a single class of companies while denying these benefits to others is directly contrary to existing State policy for bioenergy development and in-state production of alternative fuels.

3. By limiting its definition of “lignocellulosic ethanol processing” to acid and enzymatic technologies [Section 40149 (a)], the proposed bill enables such technologies to be permitted as transfer or processing stations, while continuing to require the permitting of thermochemcial technologies as major solid waste landfillls. The difference in both time required and the cost of complying with the permitting process creates a market advantage for acid and enzymatic processes that is contrary to the principal of equal competition under law, and will provide “lignocellulosic” technologies, as defined in your bill, with a significant lead time to market.

4. By allowing waste streams that are consumed by acid and enzymatic technologies to qualify for a diversion credit, and by excluding thermochemical technologies from this provision, it denies municipalities of any incentive to make their waste streams available for processing by companies that are investing in clean thermochemical technologies. This wholly discriminatory action by the legislature denies these innovative technologies a level playing field and places them at a distinct competitive disadvantage.

This year, despite achieving a recycling rate of 54% (14% of which, by the way, is comprised of green wastes that are being placed in landfills for use as alternate daily cover), 42 million tons of post-recycled waste will be sent to the state’s landfills, more than was being landfilled in 1989, the year AB 939 was passed. As the state’s population is expected to grow by some 10 million people over the next 25 years, this trend cannot help but continue.

We submit that it will be impossible for the state to achieve the levels of landfill diversion mandated in SB 1252 without the application of all available technologies for waste conversion. Unfortunately, the hostile climate for thermochemical technologies being fostered by the state legislature is forcing the proponents of these technologies to construct their plants in other states, and along with them are going millions of dollars of Department of Energy grants and loan guarantees.

The victims of these policies, and bills like SB 1252, will be the people of California, who will be denied an efficient path to low-cost, locally-produced alternatives to gasoline and a cleaner environment.

The BioEnergy Producers Association strongly opposes the provisions of SB 1252 and the manner in which they are being inserted into this bill without adequate public discussion at the end of the 2008 session.


James L. Stewart,
Chairman of the Board

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