Heating the Midwest Summit exceeds expectations

By Lisa Gibson | February 14, 2011

February’s Heating the Midwest Summit was a huge success and drew resounding support for developing a vision similar to that outlined in the Heating the Northeast Renewable Biomass effort.

“Our summit went absolutely wonderfully,” said steering committee member Chris Wiberg, COO of Superior, Wis.-based Twin Ports Testing. The idea was to determine whether the Midwest region had the leadership and desire to develop a plan on the heels of the successful Heating the Northeast conferences, which outline a vision of 25 percent residential heating from renewables by 2025, 75 percent of that from biomass. While it’s too early for the Midwest to lay out such specific goals, a majority of the 54 people in attendance at the summit are willing to research and collaborate to begin the process.

The morning sessions at the summit, held in Carlton, Minn., revolved around answering two questions: is the Midwest region capable of building such a vision; and is there leadership willing and capable of developing it? “Resoundingly, everyone said yes,” Wiberg said. Not only were they willing, but agreed the vision is not so much a choice, but a necessity, he added. “It’s just something we need to do and our group was extremely on board with it.”

About two-thirds of attendees expressed interest in helping with the vision, Wiberg said, and each was tasked with bringing their own strengths to the table. “We would ask everyone who wants to get involved to get involved in their sector,” he said. “Realistically, I think we can report we have 40 businesses ready to move forward.”

At the end of the day, participants decided a leadership structure for the effort should begin with an expansion of the eight-member steering committee and be broken down by state. The vision will focus initially on Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, but organizers hope other Midwestern states will follow suit and join the initiative. “We believe there will be similar support in the bordering states,” Wiberg said. “Each state is going to have to manage its own biomass resources, policy environment and what have you.”

Moving forward, the steering committee will compile and organize the feedback and information gleaned from the summit and continue to solicit additional volunteers for the movement. Working groups are currently defining the five technical components crucial to the vision: demographics, political climate, biomass resources, biomass combustion technologies, and assessment of the benefits and consequences, according to Wiberg. All are areas where the Midwest differs greatly from the Northeast and will require development specific to the Midwest. Additionally, it is still possible that a more formal Heating the Midwest Conference could be held in 2012. How similar it will be to the Northeast conferences is still unknown.

“We’re starting at the ground level,” Wiberg said. “We know it will take a while to build our vision.”