Doling Out Dollars for Pellet Heat

By Anna Simet | June 20, 2014

Last week, we wrapped up the July issue of Biomass Magazine, our small-scale, distributed generation and onsite bioenergy project issue.

For it, I wrote an article on the history and development of Vermont’s community-scale wood heat industry. That was a fun piece to write. It was pretty inspiring to learn how the hard work and passion of a small group of people, over several decades, has resulted in a thriving industry with so many positive side effects.

On that note, this week, a draft of the Vermont’s Clean Energy Development Fund’s proposed budget for 2015 was released, and, as my friend Adam Sherman pointed out with a copy he sent me (Biomass Energy Resource Center executive director and Biomass Magazine editorial board member), there are some great things in it for modern wood heating.

The CEDF’s main goal is “to serve the citizens of Vermont by increasing local, small-scale renewable energy generation while maximizing associated economic development.” What better way to do that than modern wood heating?

The CEDF proposal states that 2015 funding has a narrowed scope, the reason for that being that since the 2012 Strategic Plan was released (a five-year plan written to advance the founding purpose of the CEDF) it was found that in order to be the most effective, the CEDF should try to narrow its scope work to renewable energy technologies that have the greatest impact. And, with limited funding, the program cannot effectively or efficiently promote all forms of renewable energy.

So, this time around, the narrowed focus is modern wood heating. In 2015, CEDF is committing roughly 50 percent of its statewide available funding to its advancement. Together with funds from FY 2014, this will result in CEDF’s investment of over $1.8 million in transforming Vermont’s heating sector statewide. In particular, the plan is to build the pellet heating market and supply chain throughout Vermont.

About $2.6 million has been earmarked for Windham County to expand the bulk pellet market/infrastructure and wood heat in the school and municipal building sector, and $600,000 toward expanding that initiative to the rest of the state, beginning with development of a strategic roadmap for the expansion of wood pellet heating in Vermont. The intention is to support infrastructure investments to improve and prepare for rapid growth of bulk delivered wood pellets, preferably those manufactured and sold by Vermont companies. This could include support for bulk delivery trucks, delivery depots, pellet mills, bulk filling stations at existing mills, and/or other elements of a cost effective local supply chain.

(Note: Windham County’s Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant announced last year that it would be closing down by the end of 2014, which will eliminate hundreds of jobs and a great deal of tax revenue from this area and from the state.)

There is also funding toward on and off-farm digesters, solar installations and more.

When I was writing the article I mentioned earlier, one thing I was told by my sources was that while modern wood chip heating in Vermont is well established, the wood pellet sector is quickly heating up and expanding. This CEDF initiative really backs that sentiment up.

I’m looking forward to continuing to follow Vermont’s progress in modern, sustainable wood heating.