Biomass: Essential for California

There are 23 solid-fuel biomass electric generating facilities in California, distributed across 17 counties. The California biomass industry reuses approximately 7.3 million tons of the state’s solid wastes and residues annually, and produces around 532 MW of electricity. Biomass generators produce reliable, baseload renewable power that can be scheduled to supply power when it is needed most. Once more than 15 percent of California’s renewable electricity supply, solid-fuel biomass generators now provide only about 6 percent of California’s renewables.

Biomass: Essential for California

California’s biomass power plants combust wood residues and byproducts to produce electricity — material whose disposal using conventional means creates adverse environmental impacts. Biomass fuel comes from three distinct sources:

  • Agricultural agricultural byproducts like orchard removals and prunings, rice hulls, fruit pits, etc.
  • Forest residues and byproducts like saw mill residues, commercial harvesting operations, and small trees and undergrowth cleared from forests for fire suppression, watershed cleanup, and growth enhancement
  • urban wood like construction wood scraps, discarded pallets, clean wood waste from factories, and residues from tree trimmers and land clearers

Solid biomass fuels are materials that are diverted primarily from three kinds of disposal or disposition fates: open burning, landfill disposal, and accumulation as overgrowth material in the state’s forests. The original impetus for starting the California biomass industry in the late 1970s was an effort to improve air quality in the state by ending the disposal of sawmill residues by combustion in smoky teepee burners. In the pre-1970s world, the majority of the fuel currently used by the state’s biomass industry was disposed of by open burning. In today’s world, if the biomass industry suddenly ceased operations, the majority of the fuel would probably have to be disposed of by landfill burial. In addition to providing reliable, schedulable renewable electricity, biomass power generation provides the following reuse benefits to Californians for these lowest market value wood materials:

In addition to these unique disposal benefits, solid-fuel biomass power generation provides benefits to the electricity grid that result from the fact that it is a reliable, schedulable, baseload generation option.

California’s biomass power industry is creating living wage jobs and growing the green economy. Unlike other renewable technologies, biomass generators have to pay to collect, process and transport its fuels, with the result that they are more labor intensive.

The existing biomass power industry provides California with significant economic and environmental benefits that are essential for California. Biomass is an industry that needs to be preserved and enhanced if the State is ever going to realize its renewable energy, greenhouse-gas emissions reduction, air quality, and landfill-disposal reduction goals.