A Lumber Mill Biomass CoGen Need Not Consider Other Fuels In Its BACT Analysis. Other Sources Should Be So Lucky.

Posted on September 8, 2016 by Seth Jaffe

Ever since EPA began considering how BACT analysis would be applied to greenhouse gas emissions, there has been concern that EPA would use its BACT authority to “redefine the source” – with the particular concern that BACT for a coal plant would now be to burn natural gas instead.  In Helping Hands Tools v. EPA, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals this week gave some protection to biomass plants biomassfrom such redefinition of the source.  However, other types of facilities will get no comfort from the decision.

Helping Hands Tools involved a challenge to a PSD permit issued to Sierra Pacific for a cogeneration plant to be located at one of its existing lumber mills.  Under EPA’s BACT Guidance, Sierra Pacific stated that the purpose of the CoGen plant was to use wood waste from the mill and nearby facilities to generate electricity and heat. Relying in part on the 7th Circuit decision in Sierra Club v. EPA, which held that it would impermissibly redefine the source to require a mine-mouth coal generating plant to consider different fuels in its BACT analysis, the 9th Circuit found that EPA was reasonable in determining that, because a fundamental purpose of the CoGen plant was to burn wood waste, it would impermissibly redefine the source to require Sierra Pacific to consider solar power as part of its BACT analysis.

Importantly, the Court also rejected the plaintiffs’ request that Sierra Pacific consider greater use of natural gas.  The Court concluded that very limited use of natural gas for the purposes of startup, shutdown, and flame stabilization did not undermine the fundamental purpose to burn wood waste.  This is critical to source-located biomass facilities, because EPA’s GHG Permitting Guidance specifically says that greater use of an existing fuel should be considered in the BACT analysis:

"unless it can be demonstrated that such an option would disrupt the applicant’s basic business purpose for the proposed facility."

Unfortunately, the language of the decision appears to me to give EPA substantial leeway in future BACT analyses to redefine the source in other cases.  It seems to me that, building on the 7th Circuit decision, the Court has simply created an exception to potential source redefinition in circumstances where the location of the facility justifies a very narrow fuel selection.  If a coal plant intends to burn coal from the mine next door, ok.  If a lumber mill intends to burn its own wood waste, ok.  Otherwise, however, all bets are off.

What is particularly troubling was the Court’s acknowledgement that the GHG BACT guidance is vague, and its deference to EPA’s application of its own vague guidance. This is precisely the concern I noted when the Guidance was first issued.  Time will tell, but I foresee some fairly extreme BACT determinations being blessed by some very deferential courts.

Innovative Renewable Energy Project Starts Up in Wisconsin

Posted on March 31, 2014 by Michael McCauley

Quarles & Brady recently represented Wisconsin Energy Corporation and Wisconsin Electric Power Company (doing business as "We Energies") in the construction and commencement of operation of a $250 million biomass-fueled co-generation plant. The project is located at Domtar Corporation's paper mill facility in Rothschild, Wisconsin. Wood, waste wood and sawdust are now being be used to produce 50 megawatts of electricity. The new co-generation project also supports Domtar's sustainable papermaking operations. 

The new facility adds another technology to We Energies' renewable energy portfolio. That portfolio includes the 145 megawatt (MW) Blue Sky Green Field Wind Energy Center in Fond du Lac County and the 162 MW Glacier Hills Wind Park in Columbia County. Under Wisconsin law, utilities must use renewable energy to meet 10 percent of the electricity needs of their retail customers by the year 2015. With the start of commercial operation of the Rothschild biomass plant, We Energies estimates that it now has secured enough renewable energy to remain in compliance with the state mandate through 2022. Together, We Energies' three renewable energy operations are capable of delivering nearly 360 MW of renewable energy, enough to supply approximately 120,000 homes.

The Rothschild biomass project created approximately 400 construction jobs and 150 permanent jobs in the surrounding community. This includes independent wood suppliers and haulers from northern and central Wisconsin who are now securing waste wood for the project. We Energies appeared in proceedings before the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin in support of the Company's application for a Certificate of Authority for approval for the biomass plant. The Company filed an application for an air permit and other environmental approvals for the project, including the preparation of environmental assessments in support of the regulatory decisions. 

The air permit for the project was issued on March 28, 2011. We Energies obtained one of the first PSD BACT (Prevention of Significant Deterioration - Best Available Control Technology) determinations for this project for Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions in the U.S. under EPA's GHG Tailoring Rule. The Company worked with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in developing a novel case-by-case Maximum Available Control Technology (MACT) determination for the biomass boiler under the Section 112 (hazardous air pollutant) provisions of the federal Clean Air Act. The permit was challenged by several environmental groups. The Company prevailed in the permit appeal process. The appeal was dismissed on the merits by the Marathon County Circuit Court in October, 2011. The facility started commercial operation on November 8, 2013.

BIOFUELS AND CLIMATE CHANGE

Posted on June 23, 2009 by Christopher Davis

Biofuels are the subject of much recent interest and investment, as indicated by a recent Wall Street Journal article on biomass fueled power plants. Given the increasing scrutiny that is being given to “green” marketing claims by the Federal Trade Commission and various citizen groups (and the potential for SEC scrutiny of similar claims in public offering prospectuses), care should be taken to analyze and document the basis for any claims of carbon neutrality or other environmental benefits associated with particular biofuels.  

 Advantages cited by biofuel proponents include reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as compared to fossil fuels, energy security, benefits from domestic production and green job creation. Downsides of biofuels production can include displacement of food crops and increased food prices, deforestation and conversion of grasslands to crop lands, GHG emissions associated with growing and converting biofuels, and other environmental impacts such as nutrient runoff and water consumption.
 

 

While all biofuels are renewable energy sources, this category includes a variety of liquid and solid fuels with a variety of sources and uses. For example, power plants can utilize biomass, generally in the form of wood or municipal solid waste. In the transportation arena, fuel can be made from corn and cellulose-based ethanol, or oils from soybeans, palm oil or animal wastes that can be used directly or chemically processed into biodiesel. Additional types of biofuels include syngas and algae-derived fuels. 

Numerous “clean tech” companies as well as established energy multinationals have invested in biofuels production. Examples include Mascoma Corporation and Verenium Corporation (cellulosic ethanol), Changing World Technologies (biodiesel from animal waste), GreenFuel Technologies (algae-based fuel) and Biogas Energy and Harvest Power (methane from agricultural wastes). Large energy and waste management companies are also investing heavily in biofuels, including Covanta (biomass-fired power plants), BP, Chevron, and Shell Oil (bio-ethanol and biodiesel), and Waste Management (landfill gas). The market for biofuels is sensitive to oil prices and demand for transportation fuels, as evidenced by recent bankruptcies and economic distress in the corn-based ethanol industry.

Biofuels are supported by a variety of federal and state mandates, subsidies and tax credits. For example, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 established a renewable fuel standard, and this standard was increased by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Further, the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 provides financial assistance to biorefineries, funding for advanced biofuels and biomass research, biomass crop assistance, and tax credits for cellulosic ethanol production, among other measures. In addition, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provides for loan guarantees, tax credits, and Department of Energy research related to biofuels and biomass energy.   Ethanol proponents are pressing Congress to further increase the mandate for ethanol use in transportation fuels, but many groups are simultaneously opposing such an increase.

Biofuels are often claimed to be “carbon neutral” (i.e., producing no net GHG emissions), because the plants from which they are derived only emit the same amount of carbon they would have released if they naturally died and decomposed, as compared to fossil fuels that release carbon stored in the earth’s crust that would not have been emitted. But not all biofuels are equal and generic claims of carbon neutrality need further scrutiny. 

Recently, a number of studies have attempted to assess the lifecycle GHG emissions of various biofuels. For example, several studies, including a leading study by the University of Minnesota and a California study performed in association with its low-carbon fuel standard, have concluded that corn-based ethanol may result in minimal net GHG emission reductions or even net GHG increases. This conclusion has been supported by scientists from The Nature Conservancy in a study published in Science that examines the GHG emissions and other environmental impacts of land use changes involved in the production of various biofuels. They conclude that there are significant differences in the “carbon footprint” of different biofuels based on how and where the underlying crops are grown.    In its recent proposed regulations for the National Renewable Fuel Standard, EPA has proposed to require evaluation of GHG emissions over the full lifecycle of various biofuels and to establish life cycle GHG emission reduction thresholds as compared to a lifecycle emissions analysis of baseline petroleum fuels – a requirement that is opposed by corn-based ethanol proponents.

It is clear that advanced biofuels, such as cellulosic ethanol and some types of biodiesel, hold great promise to reduce GHG emissions from transportation and other fuel uses. Such biofuels are clearly part of the solution in mitigating climate change and developing a sustainable energy economy, but careful scrutiny is needed to ensure that the full life cycle GHG emissions and other environmental impacts of biofuels are considered by policymakers and investors.

Posted by Christopher P. Davis, Goodwin Procter LLP

BIOFUELS AND CLIMATE CHANGE

Posted on June 23, 2009 by Christopher Davis

Biofuels are the subject of much recent interest and investment, as indicated by a recent Wall Street Journal article on biomass fueled power plants. Given the increasing scrutiny that is being given to “green” marketing claims by the Federal Trade Commission and various citizen groups (and the potential for SEC scrutiny of similar claims in public offering prospectuses), care should be taken to analyze and document the basis for any claims of carbon neutrality or other environmental benefits associated with particular biofuels.  

 Advantages cited by biofuel proponents include reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as compared to fossil fuels, energy security, benefits from domestic production and green job creation. Downsides of biofuels production can include displacement of food crops and increased food prices, deforestation and conversion of grasslands to crop lands, GHG emissions associated with growing and converting biofuels, and other environmental impacts such as nutrient runoff and water consumption.
 

 

While all biofuels are renewable energy sources, this category includes a variety of liquid and solid fuels with a variety of sources and uses. For example, power plants can utilize biomass, generally in the form of wood or municipal solid waste. In the transportation arena, fuel can be made from corn and cellulose-based ethanol, or oils from soybeans, palm oil or animal wastes that can be used directly or chemically processed into biodiesel. Additional types of biofuels include syngas and algae-derived fuels. 

Numerous “clean tech” companies as well as established energy multinationals have invested in biofuels production. Examples include Mascoma Corporation and Verenium Corporation (cellulosic ethanol), Changing World Technologies (biodiesel from animal waste), GreenFuel Technologies (algae-based fuel) and Biogas Energy and Harvest Power (methane from agricultural wastes). Large energy and waste management companies are also investing heavily in biofuels, including Covanta (biomass-fired power plants), BP, Chevron, and Shell Oil (bio-ethanol and biodiesel), and Waste Management (landfill gas). The market for biofuels is sensitive to oil prices and demand for transportation fuels, as evidenced by recent bankruptcies and economic distress in the corn-based ethanol industry.

Biofuels are supported by a variety of federal and state mandates, subsidies and tax credits. For example, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 established a renewable fuel standard, and this standard was increased by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Further, the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 provides financial assistance to biorefineries, funding for advanced biofuels and biomass research, biomass crop assistance, and tax credits for cellulosic ethanol production, among other measures. In addition, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provides for loan guarantees, tax credits, and Department of Energy research related to biofuels and biomass energy.   Ethanol proponents are pressing Congress to further increase the mandate for ethanol use in transportation fuels, but many groups are simultaneously opposing such an increase.

Biofuels are often claimed to be “carbon neutral” (i.e., producing no net GHG emissions), because the plants from which they are derived only emit the same amount of carbon they would have released if they naturally died and decomposed, as compared to fossil fuels that release carbon stored in the earth’s crust that would not have been emitted. But not all biofuels are equal and generic claims of carbon neutrality need further scrutiny. 

Recently, a number of studies have attempted to assess the lifecycle GHG emissions of various biofuels. For example, several studies, including a leading study by the University of Minnesota and a California study performed in association with its low-carbon fuel standard, have concluded that corn-based ethanol may result in minimal net GHG emission reductions or even net GHG increases. This conclusion has been supported by scientists from The Nature Conservancy in a study published in Science that examines the GHG emissions and other environmental impacts of land use changes involved in the production of various biofuels. They conclude that there are significant differences in the “carbon footprint” of different biofuels based on how and where the underlying crops are grown.    In its recent proposed regulations for the National Renewable Fuel Standard, EPA has proposed to require evaluation of GHG emissions over the full lifecycle of various biofuels and to establish life cycle GHG emission reduction thresholds as compared to a lifecycle emissions analysis of baseline petroleum fuels – a requirement that is opposed by corn-based ethanol proponents.

It is clear that advanced biofuels, such as cellulosic ethanol and some types of biodiesel, hold great promise to reduce GHG emissions from transportation and other fuel uses. Such biofuels are clearly part of the solution in mitigating climate change and developing a sustainable energy economy, but careful scrutiny is needed to ensure that the full life cycle GHG emissions and other environmental impacts of biofuels are considered by policymakers and investors.

Posted by Christopher P. Davis, Goodwin Procter LLP