[EXCLUSIVE] The Future of Biomass Energy in Vermont
– by Josh Schlossberg, October 14, 2016, The Vermont Independent
Vermont’s 2016 Comprehensive Energy Plan (CEP) aims for a statewide transition to ninety percent renewable energy by 2050 while “virtually eliminating reliance on oil.”
To help reach these goals, the state seeks to cut energy consumption by fifteen percent by 2015 and by over one-third by 2050 through efficiency and conservation measures.
Within ten years Vermont hopes to procure twenty-five percent of its energy from renewables, with forty percent by 2035. For 2025, the breakdown would include sixty-seven percent renewable electricity, thirty percent renewable heating, and ten percent renewable transportation fuels.
A significant component of renewable energy would come from bioenergy, mostly sourced from forests, with a small percentage of agricultural crops such as willow and grasses.
The CEP outlines eight principles to guide the further development of bioenergy in the state.
Principle #1:“Maintain forest health as a prerequisite to a sustainable wood energy fuel supply.”
Vermont’s forests contain 8,593 million cubic feet (107.4 million cords) of “standing timber.” Each year, the forests add 166.6 million cubic feet (2.1 million cords) of new growth, with 70.2 million cubic feet (0.9 million cords) cut for lumber, paper, fuel, and development.
This annual growth of 96.4 million cubic feet is belied by the fact that forest cover overall is actually decreasing in Vermont. The CEP documents how the state’s forests are becoming increasingly fragmented, with a “gradual loss of forestland that since 2007 has totaled about 75,000 acres.”
The plan notes that an increased demand for bioenergy will “likely begin to put more pressure on Vermont’s forests and farmland.”
Existing bioenergy demand for wood in Vermont includes two stand-alone biomass power facilities, the 50-megawatt McNeil Generating Station in Burlington and 25-megawatt Ryegate facility in Caledonia County in the Northeast Kingdom. McNeil burns 440,000 tons of wood per year with anywhere from one-half to two-thirds sourced from Vermont, the rest from neighboring states. Ryegate consumes about 200,000 tons annually.