By Jerry Schwartz
Senior Director, Energy & Environmental Policy
The Maryland General Assembly is once again considering legislative changes to the state Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) — House Bill 1287 and Senate Bill 867. As in previous years, legislation was introduced to remove qualifying biomass from equal participation and treatment in the program. The method is always a bit different, but the ultimate goal remains the same: to exclude a carbon neutral, renewable clean energy from eligibility for the program created to support the growth and continuation of renewable energy options in the Maryland energy market.
Biomass is widely recognized by experts outside of our industry — and around the world — as carbon neutral. By using biomass residuals, we harness the energy value of the CO2 that would be released into the atmosphere anyway and avoid additional methane production from landfilling (methane is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide). The forest products industry is also making large investments in innovations to meet stringent environmental standards. Some of these investments are made possible via income from participation in the state RPS.
Biomass — including “black liquor,” a paper mill by-product — is a reliable, low-cost, baseload energy source that complements the use of other renewable fuels to help achieve the state’s renewable energy goals and reduce the state’s dependence on fossil fuels. Furthermore, any concerns over biomass displacing wind, solar and other renewable sources have proven to be unfounded; wind energy increased from just 1 percent to 28 percent of Tier I compliance between 2010 and 2014, while black liquor decreased from 43 percent to 30 percent.
This video by the United Steelworkers Union explains the importance of biomass in the RPS program and the potential impact of legislation like H.B. 1287 and S.B. 867 on the Luke paper mill in Western Maryland. These bills put high-paying manufacturing jobs at risk, not to mention indirect impact to the entire community. According to the Economic Policy Institute, 3.25 jobs are generated in supplier industries and local communities for every 1 in paper industry job. Removing biomass from the RPS reduces the income of the facility and introduces greater financial risk for all of these jobs.
Simply put, biomass deserves to compete on a level playing field with other forms of renewable energy. If RECs are available for any renewable energy, they should be available for all renewable energy.
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For more information about biomass carbon neutrality: https://www.afandpa.org/issues/carbon-neutrality-of-biomass