University of Vermont

Community-Based Wood Biomass Energy


Project Goals and Summary

This project addressed the question “how can communities in and near the Northern Forest produce and use local forest biomass to meet their energy needs in ways that are sustainable, efficient and fair?” This effort was framed within the larger methodological question of “ how can universities and communities work together more effectively to share learning and enhance the impacts of sustainability initiatives in the Northern Forest?” Results indicate the need for an integrated approach to sustainable forest management to meet increasing needs for locally-produced biomass and energy.

The overall projects goals:

  1. To improve understanding and effectiveness of renewable local wood biomass production and conservation.
  2. Together with other project partners, to develop a model for consensus-based, community identification and implementation of sustainable, local wood biomass projects.   
  3. Together with other project partners, to create a foundation for improved collaborative learning among universities and forest communities to increase the impact of sustainability initiatives in the Northern Forest.

Activites and Results

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, and 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. Journal manuscripts on several aspects of this project are currently being prepared.

Please see our Project Summary in PowerPoint format and the Products page for additional information.

Last modified August 22 2013 11:04 AM

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