California farmers and ranchers produce more renewable energy than their counterparts in any other state. But until recently small-scale bioenergy projects in the state struggled to get connected to the grid. These innovative projects include producing combined heat and power from processing waste such as nut shells, olive pits, wine grape pumice, onion skins and more.
Fortunately, efforts to support innovative renewable energy production on farms and in food processing just got a boost with implementation of the Renewable Energy Equity Act, Senate Bill 489.
Small-scale bioenergy projects can now get connected to the grid under the Net Energy Metering (NEM) program, which previously only included solar, wind and fuel cell projects. That changed when Governor Brown signed SB 489, authored by Senator Lois Wolk and sponsored by the California Climate and Agriculture Network.
Now farmers and food processors can use the simple and cost-effective NEM application process to get their bioenergy projects connected to the grid, eliminating what had been a significant hurdle for many of these projects.
Dixon Ridge Farm — a champion of SB 489 and an innovator that installed a bioenergy system to convert walnut shells to heat and electricity — is planning to take advantage of grid interconnection by upgrading to a system that can produce twice as much bioenergy as they currently do. Also, CalCAN is in dialogue with the Almond Hullers and Processors Association to explore a pilot project to use almond shells to generate renewable energy.
And it’s not just farmers who are taking advantage of SB 489.
Later this month, a new bioenergy project in the greater Sacramento area will officially go online, using the NEM program to get connected to the grid. It will produce renewable energy for a packaging plant, using un-recyclable cardboard, food waste from a local supermarket and waste from a food processing plant as the feedstocks for the facility. The end product from the bioenergy facility will then be used as compost by a local farmer.
It’s a great example of what’s possible when we remove barriers to innovative renewable energy projects.