The WGA Western Regional Biomass Energy Program is promoting the increased use of bioenergy and biobased products through the conversion of biomass residuals from forest health projects and commercial agriculture. Biomass is plant matter that includes trees, grasses, agricultural crops and other living plant material and residues. The program focuses on policy development, outreach and technical assistance.
The WGA has awarded energy grants through its participation in the National Bioenergy Partnership, a collaboration of four governors' associations and the U.S. Department of Energy. The grants help to address two significant natural resource challenges in the West – developing a clean and renewable source of energy and restoring the health of our forests. A database of projects that have been recently funded as part of this effort is currently being assembled to help leverage their results.
The Governors recently sent a letter to Congress voicing support for the National Bioenergy Partnership as a necessary linkage between state and federal efforts.
Biomass Availability in the West
Through the work of the WGA initiatives described below, the Governors have worked together to gain a better understanding of sustainable biomass resources and opportunities in the Western states. This resource information is currently being assembled in GIS databases as a resource to state, federal, and local officials, as well as investors and bioenergy developers. Below is a preview of the work that is currently being done (please note that this data is provided for illustrative purposes only).
Clean and Diversified Energy Initiative (CDEi) for Electricity Generation
The Western Governors established a Biomass Task Force as part of their Clean and Diversified Energy Initiative for the West. The Task Force has documented:
- Current biomass power generation capacity,
- benefits/risks associated with biomass power generation and developing recommendations for enhancing/mitigating these effects,
- barriers/constraints to “utility” scale and locally owned biomass power development, and
- Suggested policies to overcome these barriers/constraints.
Transportation Fuels for the Future Initiative
Through their 2006 resolution, “Transportation Fuels for the Future,” Western Governors placed a priority on assessing the West's alternative and replacement fuels to supplement traditional sources. The Governors assembled stakeholders to develop a policy roadmap for transportation fuels in the region. The Governors created the Transportation Fuels Advisory Committee to oversee this effort and six working groups were formed to develop reports on different promising alternative fuels. The six working group analyzed the potential and challenges to commercializing biofuels, biodiesel, hydrogen, coal to liquids, electricity, and compressed natural gas/propane. A seventh group of experts focused on gains that could be made in vehicle fuel efficiency technology and policy. The final Advisory Committee report and working group reports can be found on the Transportation Fuels Program Web site.
Grant Program Background
The WGA manages the Western region of the National Biomass Partnership, one of five regional partnerships working with the U.S. Department of Energy. The 13 participating states are: Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Wyoming. The Partnership was designed to work cooperatively with the DOE Office of Biomass Programs to facilitate the increased use of bioenergy and bio-based products through coordinated federal, regional and state outreach education and technical assistance.
Working closely with state energy, forestry and agricultural agencies, WGA’s goal is to increase conversion of biomass residuals from forest health projects and commercial agricultural activities into energy and other valuable by-products. WGA’s biomass program aims to encourage and develop biomass energy activities, projects and technologies involving biomass residue in two key areas:
- forest health treatments designed to restore and maintain the health of fire-prone ecosystems; and
- the waste and byproducts of agricultural crop and animal feeding operations
By finding value in what would otherwise be waste-streams, handling and treatment costs are reduced. In the case of wildfire, reduced costs translate to a reduced threat and consequence of wildfire for communities and the environment because more fuel treatment work is possible. In the case of agriculture, increased biomass utilization reduces environmental demands, provides farmers and ranchers more options and can be a source of energy.
- Arizona - Economic and engineering feasibility studies were conducted on the potential use of pellets or chips in state-funded buildings’ heating and cooling systems.
- Colorado - This grant covered four projects: development of university course curriculum on biomass utilization; a biomass supply study; a survey of industry to gauge interest in using wood for in co-firing energy; facility heating studies
- New Mexico – This grant helped to fund a feasibility study on establishing a combined heating and power facility utilizing biomass resources. The study document available biomass resources and assesses applicable energy technologies for production of both heat and power including capital and operating costs.
- South Dakota – A feasibility study was completed on the use of biomass for schools, state and local governments and other public institutions in the Black Hills Region of South Dakota. This study includes activities, findings and recommendations for seven schools and four campus facilities to determine the viability of using wood as the primary source for heating.
- California - The first project evaluated current biofuels in the state, identified future candidate technologies, and developed an effective course for future development. The second project conducted a feasibility study of biomass energy production to support local water self-sufficiency .
- California and Nevada –The project addressed the barriers/constraints to “utility” scale and locally owned biomass power development and will lead to increased bioenergy awareness through outreach.
- Nebraska – This grant was used to develop a life cycle bioenergy and environmental impact software focusing on the corn ethanol production pathway. The Biofuel Energy System Simulator (BESS) is a software tool that calculates the energy efficiency, GHG emissions, and natural resource requirements of corn-to-ethanol biofuel production systems. The system is currently available to the public as a free download at http://www.bess.unl.edu/.
- Nevada – Using the Nevada Biomass Strategic Plan, the Biomass Conservation Partners conducted public education and outreach through statewide workshops.
- North Dakota – The first project produced a video of a new bioenergy facility, and is being used for outreach across the state. The second project developed a statewide biomass strategy and proposed policies that were enacted by the legislature.
- Utah – Grant funding was used to complete a woody biomass utilization study assessing the potential opportunities and challenges presented by introducing new, or converting existing boilers in the state of Utah to wood-fueled boilers. A biomass outreach program has now been initiated across the state.
- Wyoming –The project inventoried biomass resources, conducted outreach and determined needed strategic initiatives and policies. WY is now evaluating biomass use for heating schools.