Got Wood? A New Study Shows Vermont Has Millions of Tons to Burn | Environment | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice
Pin It
Favorite

Got Wood? A New Study Shows Vermont Has Millions of Tons to Burn 

Local Matters

BARRE — Twelve years ago, the Barre Town Middle and Elementary School was, to put it bluntly, an energy hog. It was both costly and inefficient to heat the large building with electricity throughout the winter.

Today, the school atop Quarry Hill Road is a 21st-century model of energy efficiency. For the last decade, Barre School has used an environmentally friendly, wood-fired furnace system that’s fed low-grade, sustainably harvested wood chips from forestlands in Vermont and surrounding regions. The changeover to biomass energy has saved Barre Town tens of thousands of dollars in fuel expenses and, in the words of Principal Tim Crowley, made the school “part of the solution instead of part of the problem.”

Appropriately, the Barre Town School was the backdrop last Thursday for a press conference convened by the Biomass Energy Resource Center (BERC), which promotes the use of renewable energy resources nationwide. With findings from its first-ever “Vermont Wood Fuel Supply Study,” the Montpelier nonprofit made the case that Vermont has ample additional supply for expanding its use of biomass energy. It determined the wood-fuel capacity in Vermont and 10 surrounding counties in New York and Massachusetts, and how much of it could be reliably and economically harvested in an eco-friendly way.

The study found that Vermont has plenty of additional wood to burn — specifically, some 20 million tons of “underutilized” wood that grows here annually. Of that, about 1.5 million tons are considered “low-grade,” i.e., unsuitable for products such as wood veneer, furniture or construction. Even after other constraints such as political opposition, market forces and the limitations of land access are factored in, “We think that there’s ample supply here, if managed sustainably, to support the increased use of biomass,” says Chris Recchia, BERC’s newly appointed executive director.

Vermont’s forest experts agree. Steve Sinclair is forest director for the Vermont Department of Forests, Recreation and Parks. He says the BERC study will go a long way toward alleviating public fears and concerns that Vermont’s forest resources are being overutilized and harmed by expanding timber extraction.

“I don’t think that our country can be secure until we have natural security,” says Sinclair. “In order for this country to be secure, we have to rely upon our natural resources, using them in a sustainable manner to make us free from our dependence on foreign oil and everything that goes along with that.”

Increasingly, small-scale wood energy is being seen as a wise, eco-friendly option for northern states such as Vermont. In the last 10 years, 32 other public schools in the state have followed the Barre Town model. This fall, more than 20 percent of all Vermont schoolchildren will attend a school that’s heated with wood-fuel energy. BERC’s founding executive director, Tim Maker says Vermont’s public facilities could meet virtually all their heating needs with locally supplied wood resources if they’re managed properly.

Which means wood fuel could become the next step in Vermont’s growing localvore movement — that is, the drive to consume products grown and harvested in the area. As BERC board President Scudder Parker points out, the goal isn’t to build expensive, industrial-sized facilities like the McNeil Generating Plant. Instead, the group is focused on small-scale projects that individual communities can own, operate and manage in a sustainable manner.

Info:

Got something to say? Send a letter to the editor and we'll publish your feedback in print!

Pin It
Favorite

More by Ken Picard

About The Author

Ken Picard

Ken Picard

Bio:
Ken Picard has been a Seven Days staff writer since 2002. He has won numerous awards for his work, including the Vermont Press Association's 2005 Mavis Doyle award, a general excellence prize for reporters.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Seven Days moderates comments in order to ensure a civil environment. Please treat the comments section as you would a town meeting, dinner party or classroom discussion. In other words, keep commenting classy! Read our guidelines...

Note: Comments are limited to 300 words.

Recent Comments

Social Club

Like Seven Days contests and events? Join the club!

See an example of this newsletter...

Keep up with us Seven Days a week!

Sign up for our fun and informative
newsletters:

All content © 2017 Da Capo Publishing, Inc. 255 So. Champlain St. Ste. 5, Burlington, VT 05401
Website powered by Foundation