California is Fiddling as Homes Burn

September 2020 CCC Newsletter

Barkbeetled matchstick trees brought on by mega-droughts have been stacking up with deferred vegetation management, manifesting into over 3.5 million acres of fires, which have already destroyed over 4,200 structures midway through the most devastating season ever. Governor Newson signed an Executive Order today announcing plans to accelerate the state’s suite of climate change goals and clean energy targets, but it is highly doubtful he will do much about wood waste or bioenergy, or will promote carbon negative fuels. We will find out tomorrow on the Climate Action Day. The Governor and Cal-EPA cannot see the biomass through the 150 million dead trees.
An interagency state team is evaluating pathways to achieve a carbon neutral economy by 2045, and how to manage the decline of in-state petroleum production. Newson may end gasoline sales by 2030-35 and mandate more ZEVs without even recognizing the power of converting organic wastes. CARB and the Energy Commission (CEC) are already moving beyond the billion dollars of sunk costs of the CNG fueling infrastructure, even when substituting in-state carbon negative renewable natural gas (RNG) and near-zero NOx engines, to instead electrify the transportation sector much sooner than 2045. The organic waste processors and collection companies are Net-Zero GHG emissions now and could utilize carbon negative RNG industry-wide by 2030 in harmony with SB 1383, should incentives continue from CARB and CEC, but instead the state has been raising regulatory barriers.
Deep Decarbonization in a High Renewables Future, published by CEC, provides pathways to have the electrical grid become carbon neutral by 2045, while squeezing out biomass energy and petroleum products by 2030. CARB held a Workshop on August 19, 2020 on the draft Report of Achieving Carbon Neutrality in California, as they plan to diminish RNG as a transportation fuel. The most serious issues with the report include: non-scientific approach with a lowball estimate of California’s bioenergy potential (40% lower than Lawrence Livermore National Lab’s assessment); continued reliance past 2030 on diesel vehicles, rejecting RNG; ignoring the vast carbon reductions from the waste and recycling sector; not recognizing the relationship between wildfire and electricity generation and not counting wildfire emissions altogether (which will be much greater than the industrial sector this year); and basically ignoring other sources of black carbon emissions (like diesel and ag burning). Apparently, decarbonization by the Deep Green State means dismissing all of that and pushing the biomass from the grid to the tank for low carbon biofuels, or making hydrogen via a gasification process to charge fuel cell-powered heavy-duty trucks, which is more than a generation away. The Gas Technology Institute published Low-Carbon Renewable Natural Gas from Wood Waste, where a typical plant would cost $340 million and use 945 tons per day of wood waste to produce a fuel with a very low carbon intensity. AB 3163 (Salas) will now include the definition of this type of biogas for pipeline injection.
The old-line biomass utility contracts are up next year. In 2019 they converted 4.5 million tons of wood waste into bioenergy, which favored forest waste and will continue to do so. With that, the urban wood waste sector declined from 1.76 million tons in 2015 to just 1.05 million tons in 2019 (a loss of 710,000 tons over 4 years). Meanwhile, SB 1383 will bring 3.9 million tons of new urban wood waste into the marketplace by 2025. SB 1383 mandates organic product local government procurement options, and if all went towards bioenergy, 2.1 million tons of urban wood waste could produce 237 MW and power 3.1 million homes. It’s a good thing that the BioMAT program was extended another five years to give biomass gasification a chance. If the Governor was really serious, biomass energy should become the new baseload, coupled with micro-grids for when the sun does not shine, the wind does not blow, and when PG&E can’t leave the lights on for you.
California is letting 2045 climate change policy goals get in the way of deep greenhouse gas reductions today and it appears that will continue, letting another crisis go to biomass waste. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report stressed that a decade is all that remains to stop irreversible damage from climate change. With time running out, California is rearranging the electric cars on the deck of the Organic Titanic.

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