State Commitment to Renewables Seen in Formation of North Carolina Bioenergy Council

We devoted this space last week to detailing some of the policy challenges renewable energy stakeholders are facing in a variety of states, particularly from those in state legislatures that would move to weaken or repeal the Renewable Portfolio Standards that mandate a certain share of a state’s electricity supply to come from clean energy sources.

The 25x’25 Alliance believes that with the active involvement of its partners in these state-level policy discussions, these challenges can be turned back ‑ as were virtually all anti-RPS measures offered in statehouses last year. But the vigilance and effort needed to sustain these forward looking policies must be maintained without pause. For example, language from an anti-RPS North Carolina bill killed in committee just last week has resurfaced this week in two additional measures under consideration in other legislative committees.

Despite that threat from misguided legislators who choose to promote fossil fuel interests in North Carolina, the state has a robust and fast-growing renewable energy industry. Strong evidence of that unstoppable expansion is the meeting this month for the first time of the North Carolina Bioenergy Council (NCBC), an initiative aimed at expanding the state’s biofuels, biopower and bioproduct sectors.

The council comes at a time of shifts in local and global energy markets, including the rapid emergence of an industrial wood pellet export industry, increased production of drop-in biofuels, policy-driven renewable energy goals, increased research on energy and the need for economic development in rural North Carolina.

N.C. State University, with support from the Bioenergy Research Initiative at the state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, is leading the initiative with the goal of creating a North Carolina Bioenergy Roadmap with strategic recommendations that will, in short order, grow the state’s $78 billion bioenergy industry into one valued at more than $100 billion.

Nearly 70 stakeholders representing biomass-to-energy generators, agribusiness and biofuels professionals, grower groups, research institutions and government agencies gathered at N.C. State last week for the new council’s kick-off meeting to begin laying the groundwork to expand and grow the market for biofuels, biopower and bioproducts produced in the state. The information collected from the meeting, in which 25x’25 participated, is providing a starting point for the development of strategies to be considered for the roadmap, including technology innovation, clean energy clusters, investment capital, expanded markets, workforce development and streamlined regulatory requirements.

The council will also provide an opportunity for those within the industry and along the supply chain to stay on top of the latest research, technology and policies that involve bioenergy and bioproducts. Bioenergy stakeholders will be able to connect with private landowners of working lands, researchers and state and federal agencies. In addition to increasing the contribution of biomass renewable energy toward satisfying the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, other potential outcomes include creating new bioenergy markets in rural areas, attracting biorefineries and offering farmers new markets with advanced biofuels crops.

With guidance from council members, the state bioenergy roadmap will reflect progress in the sector over the past decade and identify new business opportunities going forward. With an estimated publication date of December 2016, the roadmap will identify realistic targets for bioenergy development and high-priority policies that help bolster the North Carolina bioenergy industry.

The document will provide direction for North Carolina political leaders who can consider and strengthen policies and programs that support the use of locally sourced renewable energy through the production of bio-based fuels, power and products. Those policies and programs can lead to economic development, particularly in rural areas, creating more jobs, while also improving environmental quality.

Given the role the agriculture and forestry sectors play in the state’s economy, as well as the boom being experienced in the life sciences sector, North Carolina is in a prime position in the bioenergy market. Industry leaders say the state could eventually surpass California and Massachusetts as a bioenergy hub.

The North Carolina Bioenergy Council demonstrates the commitment stakeholders have for ensuring that the full potential of bioenergy is realized Those who make up the council and support its efforts should be commended for giving the time and effort to advance bioenergy solutions and their attendant economic, environmental, national security and health benefits that the state ‑ and the nation ‑ needs.

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