Speaking for Heat, Accent and All

By Joseph Seymour | January 25, 2012

On Washington D.C.’s mild winter days, I often look out my office window to the bare streets below and reflect on the challenges of growing biomass thermal businesses amid a sharply divided and seemingly distracted government.  In those moments, I recall a dinner conversation with a small town central-Michigan insurance agent. 

After passing the potatoes around the table and offering my Biomass Thermal Energy Council ‘elevator’ speech, the insurance agent nodded in acknowledgement. “I have a number of policy holders heating their homes with corn cobs and pellets,” he shared. “And they say they’re saving significantly on their energy bills.” If it weren’t for my Midwestern manners, I would have high-fived the man on the spot, across the table settings and all.

You see, despite troubling federal budget cuts, tax extenders and regulatory uncertainty, and ongoing congressional biomass education, I channel my inner Horace Greely and recognize the work of countless advocates and end users across the states. “Go west, young man, go west and grow the [biomass thermal] country.” Or more accurately, look north, south, and west of D.C. for signs of encouragement. 

From advocates in New England, to an enterprising collaborative organization in the Midwest, and on to growing forest stewardship and restoration works in the West, biomass heating and cooling is securing confidence on the backs of proven projects matched by regional understanding and impassioned supporters.  When BTEC hosted a three-part regional webinar series as part of our U.S. Forest Service Wood Education and Resource Center grant, we easily recruited ardent speakers, saw inquisitive attendees, and received approval ratings exceeding other similar events. State governmental officials, consumers, and project developers, in near consensus, appreciated the regional nuances of biomass thermal resource use spoken in their shared accent. 

The spring of 2012 holds even greater regional recognition of biomass thermal progress, independent of the apparent Congressional stalemate. The fourth annual Northeast Biomass Heating Expo March 21-23 in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., will feature historical keynotes from the New York State Energy Development Authority. The U.S. Endowment for Forests and Communities will anchor the expo’s content and outline the region’s path to greater renewable heating use.

Nearly 45 days later, an inaugural event, Heating the Midwest Conference and Expo: Forming the Vision, will transform the city of Eau Claire, Wis., into a biomass thermal brain trust April 25-27. An industry tour and conference program addressing biomass resource availability, processing, heating policy, combustion technologies, and success stories will inform the Midwest’s biomass vision. When combined with the sustained western efforts of groups like the Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition, it’s difficult to deny biomass heating’s engagement coast to coast.

Regional advances in biomass thermal generation are certainly unique to the communities, households, and businesses they serve. Yet, the identities they forge have dedicated roles in advancing shared federal policy.  In recognition of these efforts, BTEC will support a series of regional member networks beginning in February, designed to link stakeholders, identify industry barriers, and disseminate successful state strategies. BTEC’s Eastern, Central, and Western interests will bring louder and better coordinated voices to Washington than ever before. If supporting the biomass trade associations is not within your company’s means, consider attending the Northeast Biomass Heating Expo or Heating the Midwest events, or joining a volunteer advocacy group like the Northeast Biomass Thermal Working Group. 

A pause in D.C. is an opportunity to reflect and organize from the bottom up, because history teaches that this Washington stalemate will not last. When the openings arise, BTEC will again be at the table, ready to speak for all biomass thermal supporters, regardless of pronunciation, twang, or drawl.

Author: Joseph Seymour
Executive Director
Biomass Thermal Energy Council