By: Marc T. Campopiano

On March 28, 2012, the California Energy Commission voted unanimously to suspend the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) eligibility guidelines for certification of power plants generating electricity using biomethane.   In 2011, California’s Legislature passed Senate Bill X1-2 that raised the RPS to 33% by 2020, one of the most aggressive renewable energy mandates in the country.  The Commission asserted its decision was necessary to provide it “additional time to evaluate the RPS eligibility of biomethane as a result of Senate Bill X1-2.”

The Commission voted for the suspension after only a 10-day notice period.  Numerous representatives of the biogas industry, public utilities and investor-owned utilities submitted written comments and voiced concerns during a March 28 hearing that a suspension could devastate the industry and jeopardize millions of dollars of RPS-compliant contracts between utilities and biomethane suppliers.  While the Commission approved several last-minute revisions to address some of these concerns, the Commission adopted the suspension without delay.

To support its decision, the Commission cited potential concerns that renewable biomethane may not advance the “preference” of Senate Bill X1-2 “for electricity generation that provides more environmental benefits to the state by displacing in-state fossil fuel consumption, reducing air pollution within the state, and helping the state meet its climate change goals by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) associated with electrical generation.”  The Commission did not explain how Senate Bill X1-2 created this preference.  The Commission’s notice of the suspension included a supporting letter from four members of the Legislature but did not include letters from a number of other Legislators who opposed the suspension.

Prior to the suspension, the Commission’s RPS Eligibility Guidebook (4th ed., December 15, 2010) recognized the potential RPS-eligibility of landfill and digester gas that could be delivered as biomethane to a power plant using the existing natural gas pipeline system.  The power plant received RPS credit for generation attributable to biomethane instead of natural gas, provided that the power plant was certified by the Commission and met the RPS Eligibility Guidebook’s tracking and monitoring requirements.  RPS-eligible electricity from biomethane can provide important benefits by supporting baseload and peaking generation—which supports grid stability and the integration of intermittent renewable resources such as wind and solar—without typically requiring significant new transmission or infrastructure development.