The ailing biomass industry got a shot in the arm with this week's release of the state's draft Bioenergy Action Plan by a California Energy Commission consultant. The shrinking biomass industry, which generates power from burning forest, municipal, and agricultural waste, strives for a fraction of the support and recognition of its sister renewable technologies - solar and wind energy. "You are going to get an action plan. You've got a governor who says he wants one - finally," CEC member Jim Boyd told biomass and alternative energy producers and representatives during a March 9 workshop on the plan. Navigant Consulting produced the draft report for the Bioenergy Interagency Working Group. There are 28 biomass facilities in the state, producing about 555 MW of baseload power. That represents a 40 percent decrease in biomass power production and facilities from the late 1990s, when the industry peaked. Biomass producers have shut down because of rising costs - largely associated with collecting and transporting the waste needed to fuel plants that convert it into power. The contract cost of biomass is based on the price of the natural gas it would take to produce the equivalent amount of juice. Biomass generators holding soon-to-expire contracts with Pacific Gas & Electric are fighting to keep the deals viable. However, PG&E has told the California Public Utilities Commission in its avoided-cost proceeding that the contracts are inefficient (Circuit, March 3, 2006). Qualifying facilities' biomass agreements with Southern California Edison are set to expire in April 2007. This sector of the renewable energy industry - along with many independent power generators - has been hard hit by the lack of long-term contracts with investor-owned utilities. Phil Reese, chair of the Biomass Energy Alliance, said that the availability of long-term agreements with the utilities is the single most important issue for the biomass community. Needed are solid deals at prices sufficient to cover the cost of building and operating the plants in order to allow biomass producers to finance and permit their infrastructure, Reese said. According to the draft bioenergy report, the state's biomass facilities currently produce only 10 to 15 percent of the energy that "is technically feasible." Report author Navigant concluded that California could produce up to 7,500 MW of bioenergy, depending on the efficiency of the conversion technology. Beneficial attributes of biomass include reducing landfill wastes and greenhouse gases because of less open-field burning of agricultural and forest debris. To grow the industry, according to the Biomass Alliance, a portfolio standard should be developed that results in one-fifth of the renewables portfolio mandate being met with biomass electricity. The alliance also urged that a tax on trash be imposed to better fund the industry, noting its dependence on the public-goods charge. Reese noted that creating renewable energy credits, representing the electricity's green attribute, could also help keep the industry viable - but only if the biomass generator were deemed the owner of the green tags. The draft plan recommends that 1,500 MW of new biomass power be developed by 2020 and that the CPUC safeguard existing biomass contracts. CEC commissioner John Geesman called for a series of targets to help ensure that 2020 goals are met, including a goal for 2010. In addition to the Energy Commission, the interagency group includes representatives from the Air Resources Board, the California Public Utilities Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Integrated Waste Management Board, the Department of Food and Agriculture, the State Water Resources Control Board, and the Department of Forestry. A final draft plan is expected at the end of March.