October 20, 2008

California's Renewable Energy Disconnect

Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

California is a study of trends and counter-trends.

On one hand we have an "Action" governor who commissions and signs executive orders like the California Bioenergy Action Plan that calls for collaboration between the State government, academia, NGOs, and private industry to tackle our energy deficit problem using bioenergy. The State also has a legislature that courageously drafted and passed its own Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32) that sets objectives for reducing carbon emissions in the state to be administered by its California Air Resources Board (CARB).

On the other hand we have a counter-trend that obstructs, as it has for many years, the economically sustainable means to deploy clean technologies that would go a long way toward helping municipalities meet the targets outlined in waste management legislation. In view of the desperate condition of California's budget and the national credit crisis, economic sustainability will not be achievable without private capital and free enterprise.

It is this "disconnect" that threatens the meaningful advancement of technology to solve urban waste management and carbon emission problems.

How is this "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory"? The groups that have successfully championed urban recycling that has played a significant role to reduce landfill growth are some of the most vociferous groups frustrating deployment of the most efficient technologies for converting unrecyclable waste into clean bioenergy fuels and power. Technologies that would, in effect, greatly expand recycling are made to languish as the landfills that are soon to close continue to fill to overflowing.

Perhaps the most articulate voice identifying this dichotomy is Dr. Kay Martin, Vice President of the Bioenergy Producers Association (BPA). The mission of this California lobbying group is to advance the development and commercialization of sustainable, environmentally preferable industries that produce power, fuels, and chemicals from agricultural, forestry, and urban sources of biomass and plastic wastes. Here is a brief bio of the author from the BPA website:
Over the past several years, Dr. Kay Martin has become a leading proponent for the commercialization of conversion technologies and new product markets for biomass fractions of the municipal waste stream, including renewable energy, transportation fuels, industrial chemicals, and a variety of other petroleum replacement products. She is currently a member of the Executive Board of the California Biomass Collaborative and, nationally, sits on the Board of Directors for the New Uses Council and on the Advisory Board of the Biobased Manufacturers Association.

She writes knowledgeably about the disconnect growing between California state objectives (as represented by its Bioenergy Action Plan and Global Warming Solutions Act) and the "decades-old hierarchical framework" that defines, with considerable unscientific bias, what conversion technologies are acceptable and which are not.

With the highly warranted concern for status quo technologies that contribute greatly to ghg and global warming, we are at a time when all promising technologies, especially those with successful track records elsewhere on the planet, should be welcome for demonstration deployment and incentives as long as they meet or exceed emission standards already in place. Otherwise, the status quo remains.

Here are the opening paragraphs of an article Dr. Martin published through MSW Management magazine in its October 2008 issue about this disconnect and the need for a more inclusive technological policy toward permitting and incentives.

California's Renewable Energy Disconnect
by Dr. Kay Martin

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, in announcing his executive order to expand biofuels production, stated:
“Turning waste products into energy is good for the state’s economy, local job creation, and our environment. By implementing biomass programs in California, we will help fight critical waste-disposal and environmental problems, including the risk of wildfires, air pollution from open field burning, and greenhouse gas emissions from landfills.”

California’s single largest source of biomass is found in the MSW stream. According to a recent state-sponsored biomass-resource assessment, 38 million tons of MSW biomass are generated each year, or 1 dry ton per person. Annually, about 6-8 million tons of these organic materials are utilized to produce compost and mulch, and an additional 1.5 million tons are used to produce power by traditional biomass burn facilities. The remainder, about 70%–75% of the more than 40 million tons disposed annually, represents a tremendous untapped resource for in-state biopower and biofuel production.

Technologies that can safely and efficiently produce alternative energy from biomass-waste feedstocks are now commercially available. Given the state’s vanguard energy initiatives, the runaway cost of petroleum, increased global-warming concerns, and a willing set of new industry partners, one would expect to find a wealth of state incentives for biorefinery development. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Current laws and regulations are, in fact, skewed to prevent this.

The root problem is a chronic disconnect between California’s energy and waste-management policies. New state bioenergy initiatives call for the creation of a favorable legal, regulatory, and economic environment to stimulate industry investments in technologies that utilize biomass for green power and green fuel production. Waste-management policy, in contrast, is mired in a decades-old hierarchical framework that artificially limits bioindustry access to these same resources. It does so by favoring certain landfill-diversion technologies and products over others through the maintenance of statutory barriers and the granting or withholding of incentives.

To read the entire article, please click for MORE.

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