Investments in Sustainability
The California Energy Commission is the first major government energy agency in the country to make transportation energy project funding decisions based on specific sustainability goals and evaluation criteria. California policy makers want to ensure that the next generation of alternative fuel production and vehicle manufacturing evolves in a manner that avoids environmentally and socially destructive practices. California law requires the Energy Commission to establish “sustainability goals to ensure that alternative and renewable fuel and vehicle deployment projects, on a full fuel-cycle basis, will not adversely impact natural resources, especially state and federal lands.” (California Health and Safety Code section 44271, subdivision (a)(2).) Under Assembly Bill 118 or the Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program, the Energy Commission funds projects that meet this directive.
These high standards of sustainability are included in the criteria for evaluating the Energy Commission’s funding decisions. Serving as a guiding principal both to the nation and internationally, stakeholders seeking Energy Commission funding are beginning to incorporate these standards into their project designs. Energy Commission-funded projects are those that:
- substantially reduce life-cycle GHG emissions;
- protect the environment, including all natural resources; and
- enhance market and public acceptance of sustainably produced alternative and renewable fuels.
Applicants for Energy Commission grants must explain the environmental impacts of their projects. The Energy Commission uses the sustainability evaluation criteria to identify project proposals with the lowest possible environmental and carbon footprint. For example, the Energy Commission seeks to encourage projects using waste-based or renewable feedstocks to avoid impacts to prime farmland, food crops, fresh water supplies and wildlife habitats. Projects that use waste-based feedstocks also tend to have far lower greenhouse gas emissions than projects using food crops for feedstocks. Project proposals featuring renewable energy or cogeneration also tend to have lower greenhouse gas emissions and smaller environmental footprints.
Joining with a wide variety of agencies and industry stakeholders through various working groups, Energy Commission staff agrees that new measuring methodologies are needed to estimate indirect land use changes resulting from production of fuel crops to lands both inside and outside the state. Consideration of international environmental practices is necessary to ensure that all alternative fuels made and used in California are sustainably produced.
In the first years of the Program, the Energy Commission spent $3.6 million on sustainability research and technical projects involving field work needed to establish sustainability standards for the woody biomass fuels industry and to establish indicators and methodologies for best management practices of biomass crops. These studies were expanded into the areas of sustainability indicators for biorefineries and analyzing the effectiveness of regional and local sustainability regulations and practices.
For 2011-2012, the Energy Commission proposed $2.5 million for continuing research and technical support in the areas of biofuel feedstock acquisitions, water use concerns, vehicle and component manufacturing practices and verifying the attributes of third-party sustainability certifications.
UCD Biomass Collaborative
The California Biomass Collaborative is a statewide collaboration of government, industry, environmental groups, and educational institutions administered for the state by the University of California, Davis. Sponsored by the Energy Commission and other agency and industry partners, the Collaborative works to enhance the sustainable management and development of biomass in California for the production of renewable energy, biofuels, and products. Find out more information about the California Biomass Collaborative here.