Saturday, May 20, 2006

Some thoughts on the California Renewable Fuel Standard

Biodiesel on my mind, lately!

Following in the footsteps of the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) policy with regards to renewably generated electricity, comes what seems to be a groundswell of Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS) for biodiesel.

These are mandated, low blends - B2 or B5. Minnesota, Washington, and Iowa have passed RFS bills that include biodiesel. SB1675 is pending in California

Eric Bowen has gone deep on this.

I haven't seen much discussion, however, on whether this is a good thing or not. I have my doubts. So do others, and I have reproduced some key comments to the bill at the end of the post.

I wrote, in a post to the Biodiesel Council of California email listserve:

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On the face of it, the bill supports biodiesel but I for one am quite ambivalent about these low-blend mandates.

As a practical matter they favor the least sustainably produced, lowest quality, and most highly subsidized biodiesel. In other words, this bill will incentivize the expansion of the biodiesel production capacity that we least want. Most probably, the biodiesel that the refineries will buy for blending will be imported from the Midwest and made from GMO soy.

Because of this it also runs against the grain of the California biofuels roadmap.

It's great that biodiesel is getting attention in the legislature but I urge caution in support of this bill, in it's present form.

The solar industry has had to withhold support or even lobby against "pro-solar" bills in the past written by well-meaning but uninformed legislators (or watered down by other lobbyists seeking to undermine the legislation).

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RPS's have worked well for the renewable energy industry in part because they have "set-asides" for a certain amount of energy produced a particular way. For instance, most RPS bills have a 20% set aside for PV. This recognizes that although PV is more expensive than other renewable sources (like wind and central station solar thermal electric), it also has certain external benefits - namely, coincidence with peak load and the benefits of distributed generation (less T&D, substation upgrades, etc.)

I think the biggest issue with the current RFS is that it does not recognize that all biodiesel is not in fact created equal. It should assign different values according to the sustainability and other external benefits of the feedstock. It should also include R&D funding for sustainable feedstock development in California, and incentives for biodiesel production based on sustainable & local feedstocks.

It is too easy to let the perfect be the enemy of the good, so I'm not coming out against this bill. However, I would love to see it modified to take these issues (and the ones following) into consideration.

Other publicly posted comments to the bill:

I am the fuel buyer for BioFuel Oasis in Berkeley, a biodiesel retailer in the San Francisco Bay Area. While I am in favor of the use of responsibly produced biodiesel, I am troubled by any bill that mandates the use of biodiesel at this time. My fear is that we do not have enough consistent, reliable sources of biodiesel to meet a mandate. Biodiesel was not available to us during the week after Katrina hit because of increased demand in other states. If suppliers cannot find locally produced biodiesel they will have to import more expensive fuel from across the country, or worse, fuel made from oil crops that have displaced rainforests in places like Malaysia and Brazil.

While I believe that biofuels have an important role in the energy supply of the future, that role comes with limitations. There is not enough arable land to grow nearly enough biofuel to replace the amount of petroleum that we currently use. We have to look at the broad picture so that our mandates do not create worse problems than they solve. I believe that more emphasis should be placed on finding ways to reduce the amount of energy we use. This will result in both cleaner air and a reduction in our dependence on petroleum.
--Gretchen Zimmerman (04-27-06)


I am a biodiesel 99% user and have been since sept 05. I have had no issues with the fuel or my vehicle, other then it is old. I look forward to buying a new diesel when they are going to be sold in CA again. I support this bill in general but would liked to have seen this bill as part of a package of incentives to all biodiesel parties needed to meet the mandate. I want biodiesel use in CA to be a economic boon to the state not a additional drain of money to imports, be it OPEC or biodiesel plants in TX or CO. This mandate would require a minimum of 60million gallons of biodiesel to meet 2% mandate. We only produced 5 million this year. We do not have farmers here growing seed crops, what we do have for feed stock is waste grease, but 90% of that is going to cattle and hog feed not fuel. We need incentives to the rendering industry to look to biodiesel first as a sale then buy the co-product of glyercin to use in thier feed products. We need research happening in Davis and Fresno as to what seed crops will grow the best in the various farming locations in the state. This movement in the state has to to start with the feedstock and production incentives. It takes 2 years to get production facilities built in CA with the regulatory process as it is, in MN is takes 6months, Iowa 8months, IN 8 mos, from planning to production.
Please lets do this smart and plan the growth and development of this new industry. Yes a mandate creates demand for fuel and venture to fund it, but we need a plan for all the parts of the industry to be built at the same time, in the correct order. Thank You
--Kari Lemons (04-17-06)

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