Heating the Northeast with Renewable Biomass: A Vision for 2025

By Kyle Gibeault
The Northeastern U.S. region is heavily dependent on fossil fuels to provide thermal energy for space heating, hot water and industrial process heat. In 2007, the Northeastern U.S. (defined as the six New England states and New York) consumed 2.09 quadrillion Btu of thermal energy. This amount, 96 percent of which is generated from nonrenewable sources, represents more than one-third of the region's total energy consumption.

The Northeastern states use 86 percent of the nation's entire consumption of home heating oil, nearly all of which is produced outside the region and a significant percentage of which is exported from foreign countries. This dependence on fossil energy exposes the region to extreme economic and social vulnerability in the event of price shocks, such as those seen in 2001, 2005 and 2008. Additionally, it exacerbates environmental impacts including the region's contribution to global climate change, air quality and acid rain. Further, it results in significant wealth in the region being exported to support other economies instead of the region's own economic vitality. This has to change.

On April 28, the Biomass Thermal Energy Council and four other organizations unveiled a vision for changing the thermal energy landscape in the Northeastern U.S. This vision, presented at the Heating the Northeast with Renewable Biomass conference in Manchester, N.H., calls for 25 percent of all thermal energy requirements in the Northeast to be met with renewable energy resources by 2025. Further, this vision calls for three-quarters of the renewable thermal energy to come from sustainably produced biomass from forest and farm resources. Both the full report and a four-page brief can be found on our website at: www.biomassthermal.org/vision.

A few highlights of what fulfilling the vision would accomplish includes:

Reinvesting $4.5 billion per year in the Northeast economy

Creating 140,200 permanent jobs

Converting 1.38 million households to biomass heating

Reducing consumption of heating oil by 1.14 billion gallons annually

If there is to be an American Revolution in how we produce thermal energy, it is appropriate that it should begin in the Northeastern U.S. The vision represents an effort by a group of five organizations to catalyze debate, creative thinking and entrepreneurial initiative around the challenge of reducing America's reliance on fossil fuels for heating.
We do not presume to know all the solutions, and in fact, this vision will probably prompt more questions than it provides answers. But if the U.S. is serious about achieving a cleaner, more sustainable energy future, it must focus serious attention on thermal energy.

In presenting this vision, we aim to jump-start the dialogue on how to transform an important sector of our energy economy in line with consensus national and global goals to shift to renewable, sustainable sources of energy. This transformation will create tremendous growth and profit opportunity for whole new industries. We offer this vision only to challenge the status quo and engage the people of the Northeast in a process of change that will be more sustainable and beneficial to the region in the long run.

Kyle Gibeault is deputy director of the Biomass Thermal Energy Council. Reach him at Kyle.Gibeault@biomassthermal.org or (202) 596-3974, ext. 327.