Maine ruling on biomass for renewable energy

Friday, November 3, 2017

Maine renewable energy regulators have issued a ruling clarifying that biomass generators fueled by a "dewatered cellulose pulp" developed by a municipal solid waste recovery company may qualify under the state's renewable portfolio standard. The ruling could help support a municipal waste management company if it creates a market for the company's residual material.

Maine statutes and Maine Public Utilities Commission regulations establish a renewable portfolio standard, or RPS, which currently requires that at least ten percent of the power electricity suppliers sell must come from “new renewable capacity resources” (Class I facilities) and another thirty percent from resources that are renewable or efficient (Class II facilities). The lists of renewable resources eligible for each class are generally similar, although Class I facilities must also be “new" (built, refurbished, etc. after September 1, 2005).

Biomass generators that are fueled by wood, wood waste or landfill gas are eligible for Class I certification or Class II certification depending on their vintage date.  Class II certification is also specifically available for anaerobic digestion of agricultural products, by-products or wastes.

In its role as regulator of the renewable portfolio standard, the Public Utilities Commission has had occasion to consider exactly what counts as "biomass," "wood," or "wood waste." In an order adopting amendments to its renewable portfolio standard rule in 2007, the Commission concluded that, “without further legislative direction and in light of the unqualified statutory term ‘biomass,’ the Commission would adopt a relatively broad definition that includes all fuel derived from wood and wood byproducts (along with other organic sources).” In subsequent orders certifying individual facilities as Class I eligible, the Commission has repeatedly reaffirmed this broad interpretation of biomass and has applied it to such fuels as black liquor, biofuel, and pulp and paper fiber sludge.

On September 14, 2017, a company called Fiberight LLC submitted a request to the Commission for an advisory ruling seeking clarification as to whether dewatered cellulose pulp qualifies as an eligible resource pursuant to Maine RPS law. The company's website describes its "Targeted Fuel Extraction (TFE) process to cost effectively and efficiently convert municipal solid waste (MSW) into cellulosic biofuel, plant energy and marketable electricity.... Once renewable fuel production is complete a digestate fiber is available for compost production or can be pelletized for energy recovery." According to its application, Fiberight intends to sell this product to “compliant RPS facilities” and seeks confirmation that the cellulose pulp is consistent with the Commission’s broad definition of biomass.

On October 25, 2017, the Commission issued an order clarifying "that the dewatered cellulose pulp produced by Fiberbright is biomass."  The order cites the Commission's consistent employment of "a broad definition of biomass, particularly for organically-derived material," including pulp products. Accordingly, the Commission held that the dewatered cellulose pulp identified by Fiberight is a biomass fuel that Class I or Class II facilities may use to produce Maine RPS eligible electricity.

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