Biomass energy plants in California are closing

Rio Bravo Fresno biomass energy plant
Rio Bravo Fresno biomass energy plant

Biomass energy can’t compete with heavily subsidized solar in California, and that’s a big problem for San Joaquin Valley agriculture and processors, as they increasingly have no way to dispose of plant leftovers. One almond grower is almost out of land to spread ground up shells on. He used to truck 50,000 tons a year to a biomass plant, but it closed. So he’s lost an income stream and has added expenses. Burning the waste is prohibited, so for now it’s just piling up. That may change.

Biomass originally was subsidized in California. However, long-term contracts and the subsidy expired in 2011 and the industry has suffered since.

Perhaps agriculture, with help from the state, could join together to run existing grid-scale biomass plants as co-ops. This would be hugely preferable to burning the waste and would also provide a way to dispose of huge numbers of dead trees in the Sierras killed by the pine bark beetle.

A policy change on open burning would require extensive public hearings. But the district may have little choice.

“Do not underestimate the fact that state law requires that if farmers do not have an economically feasible alternative, the district is prohibited from banning the open burning of those materials,” Executive Director Seyed Sadredin cautioned the district’s governing board at its November monthly meeting. “We have 11 farmers right now that are risking the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars if they do not find a way to dispose of that material.”

No one expects a wholesale return to bonfires wafting smoke across the Central Valley. But without the revenue from selling farm waste to the biomass plants, the costs of clearing agricultural debris are expected to skyrocket.

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