Frequently Asked Frequently Asked Questions
What is BCAP?
The United States Department of Agriculture's Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) encourages the use of low-value organic material, mostly forest debris, to create energy at biomass facilities. BCAP provides matching payments (called "CHST payments") specifically for the collection, harvest, storage and transportation of these materials. Since the inception of USDA's CHST payment program, thousands of tons of low value products have been removed from the woods and fields of America. This program directly benefits the Nation's healthy forest initiatives and contributes to a more sustainable, energy independent future.
What role does BCAP play for the biomass industry?
Biomass energy technologies can be differentiated from other renewables in that biomass plants must pay for their fuel. While the fuel itself has little value per se, there is a cost for the collection and transportation of the fuel to our facilities. Unfortunately, the cost of the industry's fuel input has risen dramatically due to a combination of factors—escalating diesel costs, the collapse in some markets of the forest products industry (resulting in our members having to seek fuel from longer distances) and the contraction in available fiber from a shrinking pulp and paper industry. BCAP has allowed existing facilities to source fuel from more distant markets, and in many cases, has been the "lifeline" that has allowed facilities to remain open.
Why not just zero out the program and take it up again during the 2012 Farm Bill?
The current situation in our industry is dire.
In Maine, a state which hosts the second largest number of biomass facilities, half the fleet (5 facilities) is idle, with 3 closed permanently in the last 12 months alone. This has resulted in hundreds of families without jobs, in areas of the State with little or no other economic opportunity. In communities where these facilities are located, the biomass plant is often the largest taxpayer. The plants enjoy deep local support. For example, when the Ashland, Maine, plant announced its closure in February, hundreds of residents signed petitions in an effort to keep it open.
In California, the state where the highest number of most biomass facilities are located, the situation is equally alarming. Two plants recently closed, and on top of the many that are idled. Only 33 out of 40 of the existing facilities are operating (or have the potential to operate) currently. Of that total, another 20% are temporarily idled, subject to curtailment or on the edge of permanent closure.
Doesn't the biomass industry already receive federal support through the tax code?
Biomass is one of the least supported forms of energy (renewable or fossil) to receive federal tax benefits. Congress failed to extend the industry's tax credits after they expired in 2009. While biomass qualifies for Section 1603 Treasury Grants, less than 2% of the projects approved by the Treasury since the program began in 2009 have gone to biomass.
Why is BCAP a wise expenditure of increasingly scarce taxpayer dollars?
Because without BCAP, USDA is left to manage the removal of biomass from its forests the way it has always done—expensively and inefficiently—largely without the benefits of producing energy, and at a cost that makes no sense. BCAP leverages the private sector by partnering with biomass fuel companies and producers of energy, spending funds that would have already been spent on forest debris removal, but simply paying biomass plant operators to do the job, instead of the USDA collecting this debris itself.
Without BCAP, much of the waste wood that currently plagues federal forestland in California will never be collected and used for renewable energy under current economic conditions. Instead, it will serve as kindling to the hundreds of forest fires experienced in California each year. The same is true in Michigan, where the Forest Service undertakes controlled burns of the Huron Manistee National Forest to prevent forest fire. This activity is a significant cost to the taxpayer, creates unnecessary additional greenhouse gas emission, and without any renewable energy value.
BCAP cost effectively channels that same fuel to local biomass plants—preserving rural jobs, generating renewable energy, and promoting healthy forests.
Doesn't BCAP distort markets and divert material from higher value use by other industries?
As originally implemented, that was the result, which is why BPA teamed up with affected industries and supported USDA's rewriting of the rule to make sure only "low value" organic material that had no other market value use would qualify, and that the program was not just paying producers for "business as usual" activities.