Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Improbable Senate Alliance Could Create an American Waste Biomass Energy Industry

Freshman Democratic Senators Mark Begich (D-AK) and Jean Shaheen (D-NH) have been joined by Republican Senators Mike Crapo(D-ID) and Lisa Murkowski (D-K) in announcing breakthrough bipartisan support for a little-utilized form of renewable energy, with major implications for greenhouse gas reductions in the US in the American Renewable Biomass Heating Act. Their legislation would expand the use of waste biomass in high-efficiency heating systems in commercial and industrial buildings, Brighter Energy reports, by expansion of 30% tax credits to exceed the $1,500 limit, and to extend past the current expiration date of 2013.
Previously both Republicans had joined the now routine minority filibuster to prevent  extending expiring renewable energy tax credits, not once but twice, both voted no on ensuring that when fuel is defined as renewable that it not hurt the environment, and both filibustered against tax credits for renewable biomass, in particular.
As currently passed, the limited, filibuster-hurdling smaller tax credit only really helps homeowners to install a small pellet stove in a home, because the 30% tax credit maxes out at $1,500 and even that only for just the next three years.
Expanding the low incentive and the limited time-frame would have a major impact because large commercial users require larger capital investment and longer planning times. This would create a US market for innovation in commercial-scale biomass heating systems, and reduce climate-changing greenhouse gas production.
Very innovative large-scale biomass thermal technology is already widely deployed in Europe and contributing to the low EU carbon footprint, jump-started by post-Kyoto cap and trade  incentives. Currently, the UK is eyeing our vast resources of renewable waste biomass.
To qualify for the proposed tax credit, waste biomass boilers and furnaces would have to operate at a 75% efficiency level or greater while providing space heating, air conditioning, domestic hot water or industrial process heat.
Just how incredible is this unlikely alliance?  Senator Murkowski (R-AK)  is the Senator filing a suit against the EPA for limiting greenhouse gas by polluters.  Senator Shaheen (D-NH) was shortlisted as VP by Al Gore during his run for president.
But yesterday Senator Crapo (R-ID) noted correctly that “prioritizing renewable wood fuels would help reduce US dependence on foreign oil” and would “help the timber industry and rural communities” and that “a third of building energy consumption is to generate heat.”
What are the implications for climate legislation? Only two more minority votes are needed to allow the majority to pass good renewable energy legislation in spite of the unprecedented and unethical recent misuse of the filibuster. Collins and Snowe of Maine have consistently sided with Democrats on environmental legislation, but unfortunately, the two other Republican YEA voters were voted out in 2008.
This alliance replaces those two lost votes, on at least one form of renewable energy.
Sadly, waste biomass is becoming an especially abundant resource across many states because our pine forests are dying, because the pine bark beetle now survives each decade’s warmer winter, as just one result of ecosystem destabilization, due to climate change.

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