Bioenergy Action Plan

Docket # 10-BAP-1

Lead Commissioner who oversaw this proceeding:
Carla Peterman

logos of Bioenergy Action Working Group state agencies

Bioenergy is renewable energy produced from biomass wastes, including forest and other wood waste, agriculture and food processing wastes, organic urban waste, waste and emissions from water treatment facilities, landfill gas and other organic waste sources. Biomass waste can be used to generate renewable electricity, liquid fuels and biogas.

California has enormous potential to create energy from organic waste materials. Urban, agricultural and forest wastes that would otherwise go to landfills or be burned can, instead, be used to produce electricity, transportation fuels, combined heat and power (CHP), and more. Expanding bioenergy also creates jobs, provides local energy, enhances energy security, and helps protect public health and safety by reducing waste materials and fire danger. Using biomass waste resources also complements other state mandates, such as waste diversion, fire-risk reduction, climate change and adaptation, and environmental protection.

California has adopted numerous policies to promote bioenergy, but significant barriers to its development remain. The 2011 Bioenergy Action Plan identifies those barriers and recommends actions to address them, so that the state can meet its clean energy, waste reduction and climate protection goals.

  • Increase environmentally and economically sustainable energy production from biomass waste.
  • Encourage development of diverse bioenergy technologies that increase local electricity generation, CHP, renewable natural gas, and renewable liquid fuels for transportation and fuel cell applications.
  • Create jobs and stimulate economic development, especially in rural regions of the state.
  • Reduce fire danger, improve air and water quality, and reduce waste.

Status of Bioenergy in California

Current bioenergy production in California includes:

  • 33 biomass plants that generate a combined 600 megawatts of electricity, nearly 2 percent of California's total electricity supply.
  • 11 dairy digesters that produce electricity, CHP, and biogas.
  • 500 megawatts of electricity generated at biogas facilities at wastewater treatment plants and landfills.
  • 50 to 100 million gasoline gallon equivalent produced at in-state ethanol and biodiesel facilities.

California generates 36 million bone-dry tons of biomass from the urban, agricultural and forest sectors. Producing energy from biomass provides numerous benefits. Bioenergy produced from in-state biomass reduces California's reliance on fossil fuels and out-of-state fuels. Biomass can be used to generate renewable electricity that is available 24/7. Bioenergy can significantly reduce water and air pollution, including greenhouse gas emissions. Woody biomass facilities are also critical to reduce forest fire hazards by lowering excess fuel loads. Biomass can also produce CHP for schools, hospitals and industrial processes. Bioenergy from organic urban waste directs that waste from going into the state's landfills, and bioenergy from agricultural wastes reduces open field burning.


Despite its many benefits, bioenergy production now only uses 15 percent of California's available biomass waste, and production is decreasing. Regulatory and financial incentives for renewable power do not adequately monetize the many benefits of bioenergy, and regulatory barriers compound these challenges. Some incentives for bioenergy have been inconsistent or discontinued while others have failed to account for the additional costs and benefits of biomass. Environmental, waste disposal, public health, and pipeline safety regulations often complicate bioenergy permitting and development and sometimes contradict each other. Access to transmission lines, pipelines and other distribution networks also pose significant challenges to bioenergy development.

Some of these challenges require additional research and demonstration to ensure that bioenergy production is environmentally and economically sustainable. Other barriers require regulatory changes, including permit streamlining and consolidation, utility procurement requirements, and financial incentives that reflect the many benefits of bioenergy.

Recommended Actions

To meet California's renewable energy, waste reduction, environmental, and public safety goals, the Bioenergy Working Group recommends the following:

  • Increase research and development of diverse bioenergy technologies and applications, as well as their costs, benefits, and impacts.
  • Continue to develop and make accessible information about the availability of organic wastes and opportunities for bioenergy development.
  • Streamline and consolidate permitting of bioenergy facilities and reconcile conflicting regulatory requirements to the extent possible.
  • Assess and monetize the economic, energy, safety, environmental, and other benefits of biomass.
  • Facilitate access to transmission, pipelines, and other distribution networks.

For more information, please contact:

Le-Huy Nguyen
California Energy Commission
1516 Ninth Street, MS-45
Sacramento, CA 95814-5512
Telephone: 916-654-4599

Note: The first Bioenergy Action Plan of 2006 and the 2009 update - Bioenergy Action Plan: Progress to Plan are located on the Commission Energy Archive website.