NEBTWG wants biomass thermal in biofuels strategy

By Lisa Gibson | October 21, 2010

The USDA’s National Biofuels Strategy should focus just as much on heating oil as it does on transportation fuels, according to Charlie Niebling, an organizer and member of the Northeast Biomass Thermal Working Group. That’s especially true in the Northeast, as New England, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania account for about 80 percent of the entire nation’s No. 2 heating oil consumption.

“Biomass thermal advocates in the Northeast need to attend the forums and urge USDA to broaden its biofuels mandate to include focus on reduced reliance on No. 2 heating oil through use of biofuels—be they liquid, gaseous or solid (e.g. wood chips and pellets),” according to the NBTWG.

To convey that crucial point, the NEBTWG, a grassroots campaign to increase involvement in policy and regulatory matters specific to the Northeast and heating, is encouraging biomass thermal advocates to attend public meetings scheduled and designed by the USDA to gather comments on its biofuels strategy. “The goal is to get the USDA to recognize that, at least here in the Northeast where we use so much No. 2 heating oil, that their biofuels strategy needs to focus as much on transportation fuels as on heating fuels,” Niebling says, adding that a reduction in foreign oil would include heating oil. “But their strategy, as it’s rolled out, is almost entirely focused on transportation fuels and on their obligations under the RFS2.” While that isn’t a bad goal, he says, it is important, particularly in the Northeast, to include a shift from No. 2 heating oil in that strategy.

Niebling said turnout of biomass thermal advocates at meetings held in the Northeast thus far has been good and the message has been communicated clearly to the USDA, which has met it with positive feedback. The next meeting will take place at 9 a.m. Oct. 29 EST in Auburn, Maine, at Farm Credit, followed Nov. 18 by another 9 a.m. meeting in Orono at the University of Maine’s Buchanan House. A Massachusetts forum will be held at 9:30 a.m. Nov. 3 at the Department of Ag Resources on the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus, and a forum in New York will take place at 9:30 a.m. Nov. 16 at a Syracuse location yet to be determined.

“I’m hoping with time and with kind of a growing buzz that the additional forums will have a good contingent of folks to carry this message,” Niebling said. The NEBTWG will also express its concerns in a letter to USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “We’re urging the USDA to think a little more broadly about how the strategy is developed and implemented here in the Northeast,” Niebling said.