Buy Local, It’s Cheaper
Every year, I look forward to the distributed and onsite bioenergy projects issue of Biomass Magazine. It has become an annual favorite of our staff, readers and advertisers, and for good reason. Biomass was the earliest source of light and heat, warming and illuminating small bands of ancient humans. Today, it continues to excel as an energy source in smaller applications. This month’s stories clearly demonstrate that biomass streams are being captured and converted in myriad ways to deliver heat and power to their host environments. What I find particularly exciting is that strong economic advantage was a commonality amongst this month’s stories.
In “California Craft Beers and Biogas Bargains,” (page 40) staff writer Chris Hanson's appropriately titled feature, we learn that in the exploding craft brewery sector, anaerobic digestion is often the most economic wastewater treatment solution available.
Biomass offers the same economic advantage in providing building heat, as Managing Editor Anna Simet reveals in “Vermont’s Wood Heat Renaissance” (page 30). In the article, Tim Maker, now CEO of Community Biomass Systems, said of his early days in the Biomass Energy Resource Center, “When we first started, we usually saw a 30 to 35 percent fuel cost reduction from oil to wood chips. At the peak, it had grown to an 80 percent cost savings. It’s eased back a little now, to about 70 percent, but that’s still the real driver.”
That’s still the real driver, which should be music to the ears of everyone who cares about this industry. Most of us are drawn to this industry because we believe that for our energy cycle to be sustainable, it needs a continued, steady progression toward biogenic, rather than geologic, carbon inputs. For almost everyone else, biomass-derived energy has to make economic sense to attract their attention. The externalities and true costs of carbon arguments, while extremely valid, do little to move people. Industries need low-priced energy. Counties need to reduce their heating expenses. Brewers want cost-effective water treatment solutions, and consumers want cheaper power. This month’s stories prove that in the right situations, biomass doesn’t just compete with fossil inputs from a cost perspective, it dominates.