Friday, January 01, 2016

Renewable energy market shifts from biomass to solar, pinching Calif. farmers and biomass plants

Biomass waste is deposited at a waste-to-
energy plant. (Photo by Geoffrey Mohan)
As California almond growers bulldoze orchards due to drought, plants that make electricity from waste biomass "are folding in rapid succession, unable to compete with heavily subsidized solar farms, many of which have sprouted up amid the fields and orchards of the San Joaquin Valley," reports Geoffrey Mohan of the Los Angeles Times.

Almond processor and grower Paul Parreira "is running out of dirt roads where he can spread ground-up almond shells, even as he expands a one-megawatt solar array on six acres of his family's property in Los Banos," Mohan writes. "The waste-to-energy facilities where Parreira used to send about 50,000 tons of shells per year are vanishing. Six have closed in just two years, the latest in Delano, which shut down Thursday, after San Diego Gas & Electric ended its power-purchase agreement."

California had about 60 biomass plants in the 1980s, but hit the skids with deregulation of the state's energy grid, cheaper natural gas and expiration of long-term contracts and a state subsidy. The industry is now down to 25 plants, and seeking help from lawmakers in Sacramento.

The vanishing market for biomass waste may mean more open burning of it in the valley, which is allowed "if farmers do not have an economically feasible alternative," Executive Director Seyed Sadredin told the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District board last month. (Read more)

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