VNRC Co-Hosts Successful Forums on Biomass

In June and July 2010, VNRC co-hosted three forums around the state to create and elevate a strategic discussion about the potential role of biomass in Vermont’s energy future. Below is a synopsis of the goal of the forums, the principles that the sponsoring organizations offered as a way to frame the dialogue and all of the notes from the forums.

For more information about this process, please contact VNRC’s Forest Program Director Jamey Fidel at 802-223-2328 ext. 119 or

Goal of Forums:

To engage Vermonters in a conversation that looks at how wood from our forests can produce efficient, renewable energy while ensuring long-term forest health and maximizing benefits to communities.

Forums Hosted by: Vermont Natural Resources Council, Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation and the local regional planning commissions in Middlebury, Montpelier and White River Junction.

Hosts offered and asked participants to reflect on and ground-truth the following principles in the small group sessions:

  • Sustainable Forestry: keep the forest healthy and ensure that harvest management supports the overall ecological function and integrity of the forest ecosystem.
  • Maximized efficiency: to ensure the energy value of biomass harvested for fuel is utilized as fully and cleanly as possible.
  • Local energy: to use local wood resources for community and regional needs at the appropriate scale.
  • Energy security: to provide communities and businesses with stable, uninterrupted, affordable, clean energy supply using local resources.
  • Climate change mitigation: to reduce the net carbon emissions and increase carbon sequestration/storage in order to mitigate global warming.

Small Group Sessions Breakouts: Hosts organized attendees into small group forums to hear from Vermonters about their interests, concerns and hopes on the role of Vermont’s forest resources in helping meet our future energy needs. Attendees were asked to ground-truth the principles above, offer their ideas and concerns and generally share their perspective on biomass energy for Vermont.

The following notes are word-for-word summaries of people’s feedback and ideas in the small group break out sessions.

MIDDLEBURY — June 2, 2010

Middlebury — Group One

Concerns –

·      Efficiency and reduced consumption – security

·      Potential policy distortions because of sector-based and segmented approach

·      Focus on obvious thermal needs on community and institutional scale

·      Delivery of biomass – in development

·      Pellets as designed for large-scale, not local, distribution; analogous to fossil fuel for transportation and export, threat to Vermont energy security. Principles re: local and energy security important here.

·      Creating local demand for chips could reduce impacts of external pressure

·      Could use granting process to affect process, attach strings

·      Local infrastructure for foresting practices enforcement? Not enough certified land.

·      Confusion between sustainability and carbon neutrality. What is actually required? Indirect emissions could make us rethink.

·      Better off leaving the forest alone? Need security associated with forest. How to position biomass in this conversation?

·      Protect sensitive areas, esp as climate change adds stress

·      Maximum efficiency – Couple reduced demand. Combined heat and power? Remember cooling. Look at driver – grant $


P & I – Guidelines and standards

3 – Stronger guidelines and statistics Keep some non-harvestable to maintain diversity

3 – Economic sustainability

3 – Environmental Justice

1 – Establish balance

1a – Push tightening homes

State transition Vermonters to pellets

1 – Manage forest responsibly over time with animals

Keep management local – markets 50 mile radius = keep our fuel at home

1 – Change land use ethic and aesthetic through producer coops and buyer coops

2 – Educate towns, planners, select board, vulnerability to destructive insects, invasive species

4 – Fuel use to create pellets  – pellet quality? Burn quality?

Reduce non-local supply

Increase local supply

3 – Incentives for more people to work in woods and on crews


2 – training courses – cost?


District heating id towns with density suitable


Middlebury Group Two


Sustainable Forestry

·      Need for clear, scientific definition

·      Maintain species diversity

·      Forest soil implications

·      Need to address needs of small Vermont forest landowners

·      Landowner coops for management

·      Need for better monitoring of the forest – more frequent, more extensive, better baseline data

·      Maintain different forest uses – ecological – recreational – tourism

·      Need for sustainable supply assessment

·      Forest management options, bole tree chips, etc



·      Efficiency of energy use / need to lower demand

·      Fuel transportation

·      Electrical power is very inefficient – major additive # of plants might not be consistent with sustainable supply

·      Frustration of McNeil eg stand alone electric

·      Link to building energy efficiency is essential

·      State program to convert to efficient wood heating systems

·      Large power plants need a constant supply of fuel – might conflict with sustainability


Local Energy

·      Different definitions of local energy

·      What will the development of local source energy do to the price of firewood and pellets for residential users?

·      Municipal buildings, school buildings, district systems

·      Job creation opportunity

·      Can be a driver for clustered development

·      Need to create incentivize local markets

·      Resolve boundaries vs political


Energy Security

·      Low income families

·      An affordable alternative

·      Stable


Climate Change

·      Time, management, landscape issues all hey

·      Short term vs long term perspective



·      A definition of “clean” wood energy


Other Issues

·      Potential for some overcutting “boom/bust”

·      Need real sustainability limits

·      NE specific opportunity

·      Consistent policy across NE states


Middlebury Group Three


Hopes – Concerns – Opportunities

H – Switch to local fuels will increase local jobs C – Using biomass for electric – Use for thermal CHP (better efficiencies)

H – Small scale use of sterling engines with biomass (CHP)

C- Have to tie into the grid – can’t opt out easily

C- Predominance of big users impact on home owners/ small users

C – Long term impacts of constant extraction of biomass. What is sustainable? How might net annual growth change? What is the baseline we are working with?

H – That we develop and use good standards and better practices

H – That we can communicate – reach landowners about BMP’s/biomass

O – Standards for fuel (biomass) quality = higher efficiencies

C – Impact on air quality from more biomass emissions. We’ve been living on cheap energy – should we expect to be able to go far with biomass or will we overharvest to compensate?

Principles and Issues

Where is source coming from? Private landowners – What do we mean by sustainable? Managed land? Foresters, 3rd party certification?

Chain of custody – Landowners to logger to trucker to customer. BCAP – trial by AJ

Land use – Preserve land for fuel use? Conservation for fuel use

How much should we take? Annual yield – mortality rates – net annual growth

How will climate change affect net annual growth? Species composition?

How good (local) is the data? Site scale studies

Landowner/neighbor perceptions/misperceptions about forest management practices

Can we really increase sequestration through biomass harvesting? Yes/No

Can we enhance soil/ecosystem service? Biochar role?

Biochar Pellets Qual/Btu output


Middlebury Group Four


·      Responsible management

·      Changing land use ethic and aesthetic

·      Establish balance with economics

·      Local



·      Towns, planners

·      Train forest workers

·      Weatherization



·      Stronger guidelines and standards for diversity for biomass quality product

·      Responsible management

·      Change land use ethic and aesthetic

·      Educate and train


MONTPELIER — June 9, 2010

Montpelier Group 1


Sustainable Forestry

·      Regional standards needed for sustainable harvests (ie WI)*

·      Chain of custody/certification (similar to FSC lumber)

·      Education process for loggers and foresters

·      State level forester licensing program

·      Sustainable forestry needs to be comprehensive/statewide (not a niche)

·      Consider ‘current use’ as an avenue to further incentivize sustainable forestry

·      Considering long term impacts of harvesting on future generations

·      Insuring long-term availability of the resource is preserved [balancing private ownership/public good


Maximizing Efficiency

·      Requirement for efficiency with public funds

·      Make end use of energy very efficient (carrot/stick, cheerleading)

·      Stay on top of state of the art technology

·      Consider harvesting, processing and transport in energy return

·      Lifting Barriers to tech. transfer

·      Considering coops for producers and buyers


Local Energy

·      Market development for an integrated wood products industry – livable wage for the industry

·      Development of a local infrastructure (ie local wood pellets)

·      Reality about cost of oil compared to biomass

·      Reality of an available, trained, education in sustainability

·      “grow the work force”

·      K- 12 education


Energy Security

·      Educate and advocate for thermal, not just electric

·      Sell biomass for other reasons beyond economics

·      Offer consumers flexibility to transition to biomass (to use other energy sources)

·      Energy security = sustainable forestry


Climate Change

·      Funding for climate research

·      Provide data on relative impacts of climate change of different energy sources

·      Is biomass climate change neutral?

·      Need to consider changing habitat needs due to climate change

·      Expand our concept of biomass ie grasses

·      Education is needed re biomass vs imported oil



Montpelier – Group 2


Sustainable Forestry

·      What is ‘forest health’ and ‘sustainability’? We need a better definition.

·      Forests being privately owned may create management problems- current policies inadequate for management

·      Policies need to be understandable and accessible to all – Current Use may be a solution

·      Biological diversity needs to be taken into consideration – what’s the native landscape?


Maximize Efficiency

·      Renovating/’greening’ buildings before installing efficient biomass systems

·      Standards for assessing where cost savings are – are they in making the envelope more efficient or in installing a biomass system?

·      Need to be making the entire system efficient – building and heating and electric systems

·      Ensuring biomass is not used exclusively for electricity, instead cogen and trigen

·      We need trees to capture CO2 now and in the future, should we be using them for energy


Local Energy

·      How is this going to affect the cost of cord wood for low-income?

·      We are part of the Vermont community and the world community – good for both? Maybe or maybe not.

·      Take into account the scale of machinery with what system the biomass is going into

·      What’s being produced and where is it going? We need a system of accountability.

·      Economics have to be there – biomass must be affordable for Vermonters

·      Tracking and labeling


Energy Security

·      Affordable ‘is the word’ – price is what moves people to action

·      Vermont needs to diversify

·      We need an investment in energy security – people aren’t driven to wean off oil yet


Climate Change Mitigation

·      Create standards beyond ‘sustainability’ (adaptation, resilience)

·      Carbon is released when wood is burned, but can be re-sequestered and stored by forests in future – can we afford that now?

·      Looking at all climate change gases

·      Are we a carbon sink or emitter?

·      Burning wood releases harmful gases

Points Left Out

·      Education and outreach

·      Human health effects

·      Non-forest biomass – agriculture

·      New England economy

·      Affordability

·      Leadership

·      Forest is already stressed – invasive species, etc.

·      Preservation of working landscape


Montpelier – Group 3


Themes –

·      Good definition of sustainable forestry

·      Open-mindedness – all inclusive in terms of potential solutions

·      Need to improve harvesting standards and standards for what is left

·      Enshrine efficiency into law

·      How do we get initial investments? Where are the incentives?

·      Access to resource for low-income people and Environmental Justice issues so not bearing brunt of impacts

·      Standardization of fuels

Challenges –

·      Inertia of markets

·      Capital investments

·      Setting up markets

·      Definitions of sustainable forestry and biomass

·      Need a wide array of interests coming to common definitions

·      BMPS by end view

·      Standards for all forms of biomass needed

·      Working with existing loggers to incorporate biomass extraction (challenge and action)

·      Regulatory oversight for biomass extraction

·      What can the forest bear? How to measure it?

·      How much wood can we harvest sustainably over time?

·      Don’t set bar too high (harvesting practices) – we could discourage new markets. Markets may not be able to reach standards.

·      Pressure to lower standards to meet assumption that we can do biomass

·      Opportunity to incrementally raise bar on standards, since AMP’s are voluntary

·      How to protect Vermont resources within a global market

·      How to assure that biomass is affordable to all Vermonters

·      Can’t wait for perfect end use efficiency to start biomass projects

·      Need collaboration to make economically feasible

·      Challenge – access to feasibility studies and business modeling

·      Sustainability definitions needs to include wildlife, recreation, biodiversity, ecological health, etc

·      Enshrine efficiency into law

·      Add Principle – Ethical/moral issues of whose resources and their effects = Environmental Justice

·      Affordable for all income classes

·      Sustainability needs to include protection of soil resources

·      New principle of open-mindedness, innovative uses of wood

·      What is balance between local use and access to outside markets to raise capital

·      Challenge of fossil fuel use and availability and its need in biomass industry

·      Diversification of scale and uses of biomass – need large scale and community scale

·      Make sure to take into account air pollution and emissions

·      Need scalable combined heat/electric projects – other environmental benefits local energy, efficiency

·      Restricting to local only may not make sense over time – don’t restrict chips export

·      Need superb management practices rather than BMP’s

·      Bring in discussion of biomass – fast growing perennial grasses


Montpelier – Group 4


Sustainable Forestry

·      What is sustainable – definition – eco-system wide and monitoring

·      Threat to go beyond sustainable limits – threats could be overblown

·      Benchmarks from past equal to today?

·      Procurement guidelines – enforceable system throughout supply chain

·      Well balanced procurement with economic component and appropriate scale

·      Risk of disincentive unless regional approach

·      Adequate land base needed


Maximizing Efficiency

·      Area source rules for emissions – fed regulations may set the standard

·      Efficiency is critical

·      Incentives that couple building efficiency and use of product – comprehensive – from harvest on – the life cycle

·      Co-gen for smaller systems


Local Energy

·      Consider most efficient mix with cost effectivenesss

·      Local – regional scale of energy system, transportation, considerations

·      Incentives for local use- low mileage range

·      Will laws be needed – municipal regs?

·      Transportation limitations will dictate use

·      Local levels are an incentive and use – high energy costs will drive this

·      When not local, all benefits are reduced

·      What is definition of local biomass use

·      Education and job component – school use – local job security


Energy Security

·      Unexpected circumstances can drive use and availability

·      Sustainable forestry a huge part of energy security

·      Who polices this?

·      How to plan when use beyond borders can drive demand

·      Large facilities and MW’s may drive ability to meet security


Climate Change Mitigation

·      Timing on harvesting and emissions and net benefit continuum

·      Is burning biomass a net plus or minus – concept of accounting

·      More continuous forest cover is more the goal – not huge clearing

·      Implications for habitat

·      Sequestration – science in flux


Other Themes

·      Job Security – Forest Industry and Sustainable Jobs

·      Commodity Market

·      Needs of Landowners – Sentiment- Majority of biomass will come from private land


Montpelier Group Five


Sustainable Forestry

·      Carrying capacity – have intellectual ability – demonstrated efficiency and need pre-developed facility

·      McNeil since 1980 has had wood procurement standards – as well as Ryegate – they are the only ones that have certification. Act 248 PSB

·      Ecologically sound harvest: who verifies? Needs to be contractually binding and verifiable. Biologists? Or political entity?

·      PRICE: pressure on resource – over years will increase use – small pellet buyer takes hit with higher price

·      Competition in market place – multiple projects – Are policy makers cross-referencing these? Are there sufficient: food scraps – NRG chips – composting

·      Look at these differently therefore: viability is different. Coordination in studies – is it a concern? Is there enough low grade wood?

·      Carrying capacity – market pressure will push it beyond – need policy in place now.

·      Regenerative rate in forest

·      Evaluate state forest for C.P. – prioritize need – efficiency demo’d – cap (no further)

·      Pellet industry – starting to happen

·      Similar to protecting our H2O a few years ago

·      BERC – study of availability – redoing now – topo, soil, transportation, etc – It will change over time. It’s looking at low-grade.

·      Compared to other states, more going on here

·      Forest floors – get destroyed with harvesting – uneasy – looks nice but biodiversity might be gone

·      Harvesting on much more land – guidelines must be enforced

·      Properly managed forest  – 1/60 cut each year – solar efficiency = low, but time scale is a factor

·      70,000 parcels of forest in Vermont – How do you manage so many individual owners? Lose animals, overcut, stream impact. Where is public good? Incentives, procurement policies, high regard for the individual – 3rd party verified where wood comes from

·      We have no forest management rules that other states have – AMPs = voluntary here – heavy cutting law/land management

·      Supply – no separate from saw logs – can’t look at it in a vacuum

·      Biomass wood vs sawlogs, latter worth 10x more – SCF certification costs money – magnified in biomass

Maximize Efficiency

·      Efficiency – get at it this way – start with electric and add heat – thermal and electrical projects prioritized

·      Hard to compare electric and heat generation – thermal dynamics

·      District heating technologies – government to help with piping – makes it more cost effective – siting is critical

·      As plants go online – maybe should expect users to be efficient

·      Efficiency – National Power Act – what role Vermont sees this? Restrictions? Replace with federal regs? Definitions of renewable? Influence on Vermont policies? Possibly Vermont not planning connected to fed $

·      Huge subsidies for nuclear, etc – harmful activities need to be more expensive

·      Economics – level playing – supply and demand did not match – trial was short – need longer term

·      Biomass (BCAP) Program – boost wood (biomass) suppliers – fire and pulpwood had lower prices – messed up the market – therefore exclude wood for paper, etc

·      Other streams of waste considered for biomass – build facilities and they can take


Local Energy

·      Most used locally to good benefit- pellets usable all over – eventually raise prices – no protection from commodity market – how to protect Vermonters similar to H2O use and export

·      Wood pellet coop – established by Vermont or CA – start soon – invent mechanism for Vermonters

·      Siting strategically manufacturing within state – avoid fossil fuel use to haul the wood

·      Local – define it – community, Northeast, state, where use wood in watershed maybe


Common Themes to Share

·      What is a sustainable volume of wood to be harvested? What are guidelines?

·      Policy regulation and enforcement

·      What is local?

·      Downsides of exporting out of Vermont?

·      Be sure to protect the “little guys” maintaining forests as beneficial to Vermonters


White River Junction Group One

Small Group Discussion


Overall Reaction to Principles

·      Conservation should be a principle/energy efficiency/tech/personal choices

·      Relationship of usage/consumption/as it relates to the availability of renewable

·      Look at biomass in the context of the whole picture

·      Challenge to provide low cost biomass vs added cost meeting these principles

·      Faulty assumptions that biomass is low cost


Sustainable Forestry

·      Public education is critical

·      State of Vermont forests is healthy!

·      What is impact of climate change/outside influences on the health of the forest?

·      How do you maintain sustainable forestry in the face of climatic influences, specifically forest soils Sustainable forest needs to be thought of in the broadest sense

·      Properly managed forest leads to a healthier forest

·      Concerns of pressure to increase biomass may impact forest

·      What mechanisms do we have to control over use of forests?


Maximized Efficiency

·      Think of efficiency and cost in broadest sense (transportation, extraction, etc)

·      Discussion of efficiency must be looked at in the broader context of demand

·      Efficiency must be seen in the whole system efficiency


Local Energy

·      Local energy may undergird local economy

·      Local energy is really a regional question

·      Supply existing demand vs new demand



White River Junction Group Two



Sustainable Forestry *

Maximized Efficiency

Local Energy *

Energy Security

Climate Change Mitigation *

Economics! Reduction in volatility, infrastructure




·      $/ton not worth what loggers are willing to deliver

·      Get to true value

·      Allow more access to smaller areas

·      Limits to growth – infrastructure/NIMBYISM

·      Residual use of biomass

·      Whole tree chipping for biomass difficult

Local Energy

·      Need good secondary market for residuals

·      Will make biomass and pulp and paper more efficient

·      Too far to biomass facility in central Vermont

Climate Change Mitigation

·      Education about comparative advantage

·      Alternatives

·      Relevance generally

·      Make non-political

·      Environmental and politics linked

·      Need education about advanced research

·      How do we shrink the biomass carbon cycle?

Sustainable Forestry

·      Monitoring sustainability

·      Condition of forest enforcement

·      Result of logging

·      Need for careful clean up of trails

·      Need more education about re-growth

·      Forest health important intensive use, added cost

·      Resource cost and monitoring, make sure requirements aren’t tough

Missing Harvesting Issues

·      Noise pollution issue

·      No quiet way to chip!

·      Factors into wood availability

·      Viewscape issues

·      Transportation issue, log trucks

·      Whole tree chipping not an option due to roads

Definition of biomass missing

·      Standards, guidelines, “sustainable”

·      Who had ownership? Most private. Are private land owners willing? Need education.

·      UVA education for users

·      Needs to be clear, depends on where, some overarching guidelines


White River Junction Group Three

Sustainable Forestry

·      There are different definitions

·      Need clear definition of sustainable. Definition varies depending on source.

·      What should be done when nature ‘does the harvesting’? (Ice storms, etc) Can we make use of such events.

·      Flexibility

·      Need to consider ecology* This is missing!

·      How will climate change impact sustainability

·      How do we educate the next generation about sustainability?

·      Think beyond just forests (switchgrass, etc)

·      Utilizing waste products from other forestry industries

·      Are current practices sustainable?

·      Nutrients need to be replaced, unlike ag this doesn’t happen

·      How is development impacting sustainability? How will this impact policy?

Maximize Efficiency

·      Do we want to consider using forest for large scale energy generation considering how inefficient it is?

·      What happens to the residue (ash)? How is disposal considered in terms of efficiency?

·      Doesn’t consider economics!

·      Are other renewables more efficient?

·      Utilize in both heat and power not just power

·      Focus on building efficiency first

·      Biomass is unique in that it can be used in multiple ways

Local Energy

·      Move back to localized energy generation

·      Why do we not buy our local hydro plants?

·      Be sure to develop other renewable energy resources

·      Is our biomass a cash crop? We need to use our biomass in Vermont.

·      Continue to utilize tax incentives through current use

·      Think about local energy crops (willows)

·      Encourages local commerce, creates local jobs

·      Capitalize on available resources

Energy Security

·      Consider the broader impacts of biomass – food vs fuel

·      Hierarchy of needs – heat is a priority (greater incentives for heating)

·      With wood you know what you have – you have a better connection to your energy use

Climate Change Mitigation

·      Burning wood still isn’t that clean

·      Is this (biomass) going to effectively help climate change?

·      If it doesn’t have a positive impact, we shouldn’t do it.



White River Junction Group Four

Sustainable Forestry

·      How long will the forest last? How much resources?

·      Reaching landowners about sustainability – use town forests as examples

·      Effects of different socioeconomic backgrounds

·      What is sustainable forestry? (“oxy moron”)

·      Regulations set minimum standards

·      The principles are fairly vague. Define – quantify. Economics, where is $ coming from?

·      Act 250 is too restrictive

·      Deer/moose overgrazing forests (concern)

·      Forests are a harvestable resource – keep it local – regain livelihoods – needs to be harvested

Maximize Efficiency

·      Not enough wood to be used locally

·      Transportation concerns implicated – roads, fuel, etc

·      Type of forest

·      plant productive (fast – growing trees)

·      biodiversity implications

·      Utilizing resources that are home-grown in the local area

·      Technology – duration of drying

·      Landowner economic considerations – maximum use of wood through economics

·      True cost of oil

·      Consolidate landowner participation

·      Advantages of small owners

Local Energy

·      Town forests serving local needs

·      Heat local – 30-50 mile range – transportation concerns for imported fuel eg wood pellets

·      Local energy use (biomass) can increase interest in local energy and inform

·      Promote local energy through awareness of economic savings

·      Local wood unable to compete economically with imported wood

·      Weight issues/ road policies

·      Local employment

Energy Security

·      Infestations – Monoculture leads to bad policy

·      Multiple energy sources beyond biomass – diverse energy portfolio

·      Use local energy. Reduce dependence of foreign energy.

·      Safety standards for emissions, machinery/equipment, etc.

Climate Change Mitigation

·      Biomass is not carbon neutral  – consider it relative to other fuel sources

·      Efficiency. Utilization of less energy.

·      Carbon credits

Other Principles

·      Biodiversity – natural habitats, etc

·      Multiple uses of forests- ecological services

·      Politics/awareness/education

·      Legislators – keep it simple

·      Monitoring/adaptation – watch out for unintended circumstances

·      Research examples from other states