Biomass Energy — Rewriting the Advocacy Agenda: Part III

In parts one and two of this series on advocacy in the biomass industry, I discussed the need for key stakeholders to come together on policy issues and introduced a methodology, called Abigail’s Law, for assessing the current policy and program priorities.

The following is another example of how to apply Abigail’s Law, which requires a simple iterative process of questions and answers.

Q. What if the combined industry, along with other key stakeholders like forest owners, universities, foresters and rural economic development proponents, focused intensive attention on several states to broadcast the value proposition of biomass energy and pushed for RPS carve outs and specific use of biomass energy systems (heat, power and combined heat and power) in their CPP strategies?

A. When attempting to influence policymakers size matters. The larger and more diverse the interests supporting a technology the more likely the message is to resonate with decision makers. The currently balkanized nature of the biomass industry means that relatively small and disjointed voices are being raised. Solar has been successful in making the case for support of its technologies in part because it has wisely integrated industry and other stakeholder voices, e.g. resiliency professionals, utilities, labor unions, battery manufacturers, et. al., and focused them on high value targets. Among the highest value targets are state portfolio standards, feed-in tariffs and a state’s clean power plan.

Requiring that a certain amount of a state’s energy demands be met by a particular clean energy technology is a proven and effective market stimulus in that it creates a demand that must be met. The down-side of such an advocacy strategy is that it is labor and resource intensive. It is a down-side, however, able to be offset by widespread collaboration and scaling the strategy by focusing first on the states that are most likely targets of opportunity and then moving on to others. Scaling the strategy results in economies as successful experiences can be replicated using many of the same materials and much of the same organizing structure. It also provides an opportunity to learn from experience and to hone arguments. Most importantly targeting states makes the benefits and the beneficiaries more proximate to the decision makers offering the opportunity for more rapid results than is likely at the federal level. Again I refer to the New York experience in which Senator Schumer and ReEnergy have focused their efforts at obtaining short-term relief for the company on state decision makers–knowing full well that the odds of a federal solution are at best long.

Success at the state level will ultimately translate into success at the federal level, as a much stronger argument in support of biomass energy can be built upon proven state experiences—particularly when coupled with federal research, demonstration and deployment programs. Focusing on sweeping federal fiscal and definitional mandates prior to accomplishing the foundational work required by “investors” to make and prove the case for biomass energy is like starting the construction of a building at the second floor. It simply will not hold up. Federal investors, or in this case decision makers, are not ready to make the leap that a fiscal and definitional strategy asks of them. Although it may be argued by industry that the facts are in, those being asked to decide think otherwise. In politics, as in business, the customer is always right—even if they are not.

In my opinion the answer to “what if the biomass energy industry were to devise a collaborative agenda supporting the power, heat and combined heat and power sectors, targeting the research, demonstration and deployment programs of key federal departments and agencies and carving out provisions for biomass energy in state portfolio standards and clean power plans” is: the greater the likelihood of a strong and vibrant domestic market for its products and services.

I urge biomass energy industry leaders to come together to reassess and to revise their currently disparate and, in my opinion, poorly targeted advocacy agenda using Abigail’s Law. Doing so will, I am confident, turn the winter of despair into a spring of hope.

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Joel Stronberg, Esq., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC. He writes about energy and politics in his blog Civil Notion ( www.civilnotion.com ). Joel recently returned to private practice after serving as the Executive Director of the Biomass Thermal Energy Council.  He has worked extensively in the clean energy fields for public and private sector clients at all levels of government and in Latin America. His specialties include: resiliency; distributed generation and storage; utility regulation; financing mechanisms; and, sustainable agriculture; and human behavior. He has recently taken on the duties of managing partner for LAC Solar Light, Inc. a B-type corporation working in the Americas. Joel can be contacted at thejbsgroup78@gmail.com .

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