University of Vermont

Community-Based Wood Biomass Energy

Community Biomass Wood Energy Project Summary

Community-Based Wood Biomass Energy in Vermont: Project Summary

High energy costs and environmental concerns have prompted many communities in the Northern Forest to explore options for producing energy from local forests. Both homeowners and public facilities are interested in wood as a source of low carbon and locally accessible energy. While foresters and ecologists have developed harvest guidelines, communities still struggle to sort out the technical, economic and social aspects of sustainable energy. This action research project seeks to understand the institutional partnerships and decision support needs of local communities as they pursue wood biomass energy options that are sustainable, efficient, local and equitable.

Our team worked in two clusters of communities in Washington and Addison Counties, Vermont to explore potential demand, supply and sustainability issues for providing residential and institutional forest-based thermal energy from local sources. We used a mixed methods approach to understand the varied issues that affect local sustainability of wood biomass energy from an institutional perspective. We conducted a demand survey of local residents, a supply survey of local forest landowners, a GIS study of potential supply, and a procurement study of a local wood-heated school. We interviewed area loggers to understand supply and delivery issues and interviewed project participants to better understand how community-university partnerships can assist communities in addressing these issues. The focal action project in Addison County was the piloting of a community-supported firewood program in which community members were engaged and data collected before, during and after trees were harvested and firewood was sold. The focal action project in Washington County was a forest sustainability partnership between the University of Vermont and Harwood Union Middle and High Schools in which a management plan for the school forest was created, students received field instruction, and teachers participated in educational workshops. Results of these efforts were disseminated at community meetings, posted to the project website (see Products page), and being prepared as journal manuscripts.

Overall, this project found that interest was high in expanding use of wood energy, but a number of technical and institutional issues (including market-based factors) can affect the options for energy that is sustainable, efficient, local and fair. Local communities appreciated technical information and other decision supports that address their particular sites and concerns. Once sustainability constraints were considered, there was less wood available for biomass energy than residents anticipated. Also, the ability to support local businesses by sourcing wood locally met constraints related to cost, scale and technology. See technical reports on the Products page for more information.

Last modified August 22 2013 09:52 AM

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