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California law opens door for farmers to develop clean energy

The Renewable Energy Equity Act will remove unnecessary barriers to small-scale renewable energy projects by allowing all renewable energy types, including biomass and biogas, to participate in the state’s Net Energy Metering (NEM) program.

On Oct. 8, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law the Renewable Energy Equity Act (SB 489), authored by Senator Lois Wolk. The Renewable Energy Equity Act will remove unnecessary barriers to small-scale renewable energy projects by allowing all renewable energy types, including biomass and biogas, to participate in the state’s Net Energy Metering (NEM) program. SB 489 will make it easier for small-scale bioenergy projects to get connected to the grid and help the state meet its renewable energy goals.

“Governor Brown recognized the value of SB 489 for jobs, our environment and our state’s farmers,” stated Senator Lois Wolk. “Today, California made it easier to turn agricultural waste products like wine pumice and nut shells into clean energy.  And that will help us reach the state’s renewable energy and greenhouse gas emissions goals while spurring needed economic development.”

Currently, only wind, solar, and fuel cell generators are able to take advantage of the NEM program’s streamlined process of getting energy online. Connecting all other forms of renewable energy to the electric grid requires going through the longer, more arduous, and very expensive Feed-In-Tariff process. Small-scale renewable energy projects that attempt to qualify under FIT can take months and even years to connect to the grid, severely curtailing small-scale renewable energy development in California.

“California farmers lead the country in producing on-farm renewable energy,” said Jeanne Merrill, Policy Director, the California Climate and Agriculture Network. “The Renewable Energy Equity Act now makes it easier for farmers and food processors to develop more renewable energy projects and get credit for moving California away from fossil fuels.”  

The Renewable Energy Equity Act would allow innovative farmers like Russ Lester of Dixon Ridge Farms in Winters to get their small-scale bio-energy projects connected to the grid.  Mr. Lester, an organic walnut producer and processor, converts his organic bio-waste to energy, producing heat and power to help run his operation.  He utilizes the byproduct of this process as a soil amendment in his orchards and to increase soil carbon sequestration, an added climate benefit.

“We want to do our part to produce renewable energy, increase sustainability and address climate change,” said Russ Lester. “Gov. Brown just made that a lot easier. We can finally get renewable energy projects like ours connected to the grid.”

SB 489, sponsored by the California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN), is supported by a diverse group of California farm organizations, including California Certified Organic Farmers, California Farm Bureau, the California Rice Commission, the Almond Hullers & Processors Association, Community Alliance with Family Farmers and the Ecological Farming Association. It is also supported by many environmental organizations, including the Environmental Defense Fund, Planning and Conservation League, Sustainable Conservation, and Californians Against Waste and local governments, including the Board of Supervisors from Yolo and Solano counties.

For more information on the Renewable Energy Equity Act, see:

Additional Information

Two examples of the type of agriculture renewable energy projects that will benefit from the Renewable Energy Equity Act:

1. Russ Lester at Dixon Ridge Farms, producer and processor of organic walnuts near Winters, uses walnut shells as the feedstock to produce electricity to power his freezers (used to keep the walnuts fresh and kill insect pests) and heat from the gasification process to dry the walnuts. Currently, Dixon Ridge Farms cannot get their small-scale bioenergy project connected to the grid and credited for the energy they produce. Under SB 489, Dixon Ridge Farms would be credited on the farm’s utility bill for the renewable energy produced. See:

2. Straus Family Dairy in Marin County installed a methane biodigester that produces electricity to power the dairy operation and their electric vehicles. SB 489 would enable these kinds of small-scale biogas projects to tie into the grid. Here is a short video about Straus Dairy’s renewable energy project:

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