April 25, 2009

New RES Bill Repeats Biomass Restrictions of RFS

The passage of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 included mandates for the production of billions of gallons of "advanced biofuels" including 16 billion gallons per year of cellulosic ethanol by 2022. This is an important investment and technology development driver for this emerging industry. But it is significantly undercut by the restrictions on the sources of qualifying feedstock as defined in its Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS).

This poorly conceived set of restrictions was added to the Act after prolonged negotiations without the approval or vote of the participants. According to the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, there are some 10 million timberland owners in the U.S. - 92% of them are excluded from participating in the biofuels mandate because of the definition! Compare the before and after impacts of the definition on the state of California alone (see maps at right).

It has been the subject of debate and of several legislative attempts to excise or amend it, notably bipartisan legislation championed by Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD).

Unfortunately the same definitions and restrictions have been included in the Waxman / Markey "American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009’’ which seeks to establish a federal Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) similar to the RFS.

The Society of American Foresters has published an appeal to its members to let their Representatives know their concerns about including these controversial definitions on this draft. Below is the text of their appeal.

SAF Member Action Alert: Biomass Energy

Action Alert--Attention all SAF members: The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy & Commerce has released a draft renewable energy and cap & trade bill. The draft bill would exclude federal lands and many private lands from producing biomass for energy counting towards a national Renewable Energy Standard. The Committee is moving quickly and plans to approve this bill in the coming weeks before Memorial Day.

The definition of biomass in this bill is prescriptive and would restrict biomass from public lands and a great deal of biomass from private lands, from counting towards a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES). In turn, this would result in less energy from woody biomass rather than more.

Specifically, the Definition would NOT count biomass used to produce biomass energy from:

• ‘old growth’ or ‘mature’ forests (these terms are not defined)
• ‘plantations’ (planted trees) established after the enactment of the Act (again, term is not defined)
• Forests identified by a State Natural Heritage Program as rare, imperiled, or critically imperiled
• Any Federal Land, unless it’s near a structure or campground.

To read the definition click on this link to the draft bill and go to page 7 and 8.

The SAF website has a list of Members of the Energy and Commerce Committee who need to hear from you.



Wood is necessary to meet a renewable energy standard: If as a nation we are to truly meet renewable energy goals—whether electricity or biofuels—wood must be allowed to make its full contribution. Renewable forest biomass will account for up to 1/3 of the energy needed to meet the RES

We should promote rather than discourage the use of renewable forest biomass. Limiting renewable forest biomass harms conservation, consumers, and the climate. Foresters have the expertise to help landowners sustainably manage forests for wood products and biomass energy while still conserving the environment.

Federal lands must be included: Many Federal forests desperately need treatments to improve forest health, control insects and disease and prevent catastrophic wildfire. Biomass removal in these forests could help to create renewable energy while also improving forest health and allowing forests to act as climate ‘sinks’ rather than ‘emitters’ (through insect & disease infestation and catastrophic wildfire).

Different regions of the country contribute different strengths to renewable energy generation. For instance, some states have more wood than wind. Limiting forest biomass hamstrings some states from meeting mandates, thereby increasing costs to consumers and creating regional disparities in economic development.

Green jobs – Biomass energy plants create 4.9 jobs for each MW of installed capacity. One plant can inject $150 million in upfront construction investment with $20 million spent in the local economy each year.

Definitions of eligible biomass feedstock should put working forests on an even playing field with other renewable energy sources.

Sustainable forest biomass reduces greenhouse gases (GHG) because it is carbon neutral

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April 17, 2009

New Report Challenges Searchinger ILUC Study

Coinciding with the National 25x'25 Summit earlier this month the alliance has just inaugurated their own blog full of news, reports, and commentary relevant to the mission of the organization - to get 25 percent of our energy from renewable resources like wind, solar, and biofuels by the year 2025.

A blog article published yesterday titled "New Report Challenges Searchinger ILUC Study" provides information about the work of two Australian researchers which criticizes the methods and assumptions employed by Tim Searchinger and others in the controversial study titled "Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases through Emissions from Land Use Change", which was published in February, 2008.

Below are my comments to the article.

There are two paradigm shifts at play here.

The obvious one is the international effort to shift the production of liquid fuels from fossil, carbon positive, feedstock to renewable, carbon neutral or negative feedstock. The Catch-22 for renewables is its current unavoidable reliance on its predecessor for energy, transport, and fertilizers. Consequently, many of the factors that impact the carbon footprint of cultivated feedstocks like corn are a result of the very lack of alternatives that renewables are designed to provide. The corn ethanol industry in particular is already at work replacing every carbon input imaginable to improve its balance sheet but it will take time.

The second paradigm shift is the unprecedented global definition of acceptable technologies and markets before they have had a chance to incubate regionally. What innovations would we have sacrificed had we pre-regulated to this extent in the past? Nuclear bombs - which saved millions of lives by changing hot world wars into cold ones? Personal computers and the internet - which democratized worldwide communication and learning to an unparalleled extent?

Anticipating ill effects before feedstocks and products are developed is a risky business that threatens to kill research, development, and deployment - and rapidly shrinking investment. Are we to cede all future RD&D to deep pocketed corporations who have a vested interest in controlling threats to their markets? Can politically motivated legislators objectively thread the delicate needle of market definition and regulation?

The indirect land use conclusions arrived at in Searchinger’s paper are highly speculative and are better at looking backward than forward while new technologies and feedstocks alternatives are being developed. The prominence that such one-side speculation has been given in the public media is troubling.

The idea that low carbon fuel standards include factors based on speculation is prone to gross misuse and manipulation. By hamstringing technology and market development with such standards we virtually insure unfair perpetuation of the status quo - an industry that clearly would not have passed such scrutiny had similar lifecycle analysis models been applied one hundred years ago.

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April 14, 2009

25x'25: Agriculture and Forestry in a Reduced Carbon Economy

The 25x'25 Alliance held their National Summit March 31-April 2 in Arlington, VA. The theme this year was "Agriculture and Forestry in a Reduced Carbon Economy" which is significant because of the relatively equal footing given to forestry in an organization that has, up to this point, reflect a more agricultural emphasis. Last year the organization's National Steering Committee chartered a special Carbon Work Group to analyze this issue, file a report, and make its recommendations.

To date, a carbon “primer” has been developed by the 25x'25 Carbon Work Group and circulated in draft form among its agricultural and forestry partners and renewable energy stakeholders. That input was incorporated into a carbon discussion guide, an evolving collection of recommendations regarding climate change policy, its implementation, and what must happen for the agriculture and forestry sectors to deliver maximum greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

Here is a link to the draft version of Agriculture and Forestry in a Reduced Carbon Economy: Solutions from the Land There is a shorter Executive Summary that facilitates accessing the longer document which was completed just in time for the Summit to encourage distribution and comments of the draft.

The Work Group facilitators ask that you please send your comments to Jeffrey Frost and Ernie Shea.

The Work Group has also developed a Question and Answer guide to support information education outreach work with interested stakeholders and has also consolidated a list of key documents and resources.
Click here to see a new video about Agriculture and Forestry in a Reduced Carbon Economy.

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