Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday signed a bill that would expand the definition of biomethane energy despite the protests of some environmentalists, who argued the move would cost ratepayers and produce emissions.
Impact: CA AB3163 (19R) by Assemblymember Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield) is a victory for biomethane supporters, who along with other alternative fuel suppliers want to see their resources counted toward the state's climate targets.
Background: Biomethane, also called renewable natural gas, is a fuel derived from organic matter like food waste, crop residue, livestock manure and dead trees. Those materials normally are left to decay or be burned in landfills, both of which cause significant pollution. But the gas emanating from organic matter can be purified into biomethane and used for electricity generation and transportation fuel.
According to the Energy Commission, bio-energy — both biomethane and biomass — produced 5,851 gigawatt-hours of electricity generation last year, just 2.9 percent of the state's power. But bio-energy was used more than some traditional resources like coal, oil, waste heat and small hydro.
Details: Prior to AB 3163, the Public Utilities Commission limited the definition of biomethane in its procurement targets to the singular conversion technology of anaerobic digestion, which is how food waste and livestock manure are broken down to produce the biogas and converted into biomethane.
Salas sought to include non-combustion disposal methods in the new biomethane definition so processes like gasification and pyrolysis, which use high heat and pressure, rather than incineration, could make them eligible for procurement targets.
While the bill was backed by waste haulers, alternative fuel supporters and the Environmental Defense Fund, it was opposed by other environmental groups, which argued that AB 3163 is an inefficient, costly way to cut emissions. Instead, they said, the state should focus on cheaper methods like solar and wind power. And the non-combustion methods like gasification are energy-intensive and still produce some emissions, which don't ultimately make it "renewable" in the eyes of some environmentalists.
What's next: The PUC continues to examine whether utilities should be required to procure biomethane for power generation, in addition to considering the emissions impacts of their electricity. The agency's work in this area stems from CA SB1440 (17R), which then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed in September 2018. Salas' AB 3163 hopes to build on that law.