Biomass fuel becomes energy resource for qualified utilities

By Raechel Dawson
WNPA Olympia News Bureau

Gov. Chris Gregoire signed into law Wednesday legislation that would give financially distressed biomass processing facilities and pulp and paper mills a break from compliance rules dealing with the expensive process of clean-energy conversion.

Prime sponsor Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond, was prime sponsor of Senate bill 5575, which calls for a change in the 2006 voter-approved Energy Independence Act (Initiative 937) to further define what biomass-elements may constitute renewable resources.

"In terms of saying legacy biomass — hog fuel, black liquor — is renewable, it means those mills now have a little bit more stability in their business' bottom line," Hatfield said.

Hatfield explained that Longview Fibre mill, one of the eligible biomass facilities, has investments contingent on getting this bill passed. According to Hatfield, there are around 1,000 people working at that facility.

Republican Floor Leader Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, supported this act because, he said, he has been a long-time advocate of the wood-products industry.

Voters passed I-937 in 2006, which requires electric utilities with 25,000 or more customers to meet a mandate that 15 percent of the utility's energy consumption is "clean energy" by 2020 through a transition process.

This year was the first incremental phase these utilities had to reach, a required 3 percent.

Specific renewable resources, like biomass and hydropower, were limited or exempt from being a proper resource, under terms of the initiative.

I-937 urged energy independence through the transition to the use of new, cost-effective renewable resources.

Wind and solar power energy top the list of qualified resources, but geothermal energy, landfill and sewage gas, wave and tidal power and specific biodiesel fuels are also eligible renewable resources under the initiative.

Mary Moore, energy and climate change lobbyist for the League of Women Voters, said that the new law goes against the whole point of I-937's intent, which was to encourage the use of alternative sources of energy along with the investment in those sources, which may be reduced as a result of the law.

Biomass energy is created from organic material, which, according to the Department of Agriculture, may cut-down American reliance on imported energy because biomass energy can be replenished.

The proposed bill would define biomass as:

• Organic by-products of pulping and the wood manufacturing process

• Untreated wooden demolition or construction debris (not including treated wood),

• Yard waste and food processing residuals,

• Animal manure

• Liquor derived from algae and

• "Qualified biomass energy" as appropriate biomass fuels.According to the new law, "qualified biomass energy" is electricity manufactured from a biomass energy facility and would be limited for use starting Jan. 1, 2016, to meet I-937 standards.

In addition, the law allows "black liquor by-product from paper production" to be an eligible biomass product under I-937.

The bill received near-unanimous support from the Senate, and Passed the House 89-9. Assistant House Majority Whip, Rep. Fred Finn, D-Olympia, was one of the nine voting against the measure.

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