Biomass developers fight EPA emissions ruling

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A new report delves into the jobs created and economic activity generated by a tax credit for biomass feedstock.

A recent federal ruling could cripple the region’s fast growing biomass industry.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in its quest to regulate carbon emissions, last month issued a final rule requiring all large stationary sources of greenhouse gases to obtain emissions permits.

The ruling doesn’t exempt biomass plants, which burn organic materials such as forest waste to generate heat and create electricity.

The EPA largely ignored emissions from biomass plants in the past, theorizing that their carbon output is reabsorbed by forests that generate the feedstock.

But the agency is opening up the issue for discussion, leaving project developers to wonder whether they will be obligated to install costly emissions control equipment.

St. Helens-based Biogreen Sustainable Energy is developing a 25-megawatt biomass plant in LaPine that has already grown to more than $70 million. The plant could eventually power more than 13,000 homes.

Rob Broberg, the company’s president, estimated additional emissions controls could add up to $5 million to the project..

“I would be OK on up to about $80 million (in project costs). Beyond that, it could be a deal killer,” he said. “We’re getting close.”

EPA spokeswoman Catherine Milbourn said the agency previously considered biomass carbon neutral. But now the agency wants to work with stakeholders to consider whether that’s appropriate.

U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, a Eugene Democrat, said the ruling puts biomass emissions on equal footing with those from fossil-fuel burning plants. It also brings into question whether biomass is considered a renewable resource and could threaten some developers’ eligibility for federal renewable energy tax incentives.

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