Major barriers to expansion of woody biomass for thermal use

U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, Greenville, SCLack of a clear and consistent national energy policy, confusing and sometimes contradictory state policies, and a lack of parity in terms of government programs and incentives with other renewable energy sources are major barriers to expansion of woody biomass for thermal use, say experts convened by the U. S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities (Endowment) and the State and Private Forestry office of the USDA Forest Service (USFS) at a meeting held recently in Manchester, NH.

The group focused most of its attention on short- and long-term approaches to addressing these barriers. For example, low-cost finance opportunities for consumers to install energy-efficient wood heating systems was a top priority, as was development of credible efficiency and emissions standards for all woody biomass heating technology.

“This meeting and the resulting report—Wood-to-Energy Across the Northern Tier and Beyond: Barriers and Solutions—allowed a number of people in the wood-to-energy sector to meet and make connections for the first time. More importantly, the rich discussion helped winnow a list of hundreds of needs into the critical few things that must be addressed to advance this sector in a way that supports viable small businesses, grows jobs, and does so in ways that are in sync with sustainable management of the nation’s forests,” said Endowment President Carlton Owen. Since its inception, the Endowment has released reports of convenings and discussions as one way to advance its commitment to share learnings widely so as to aid others with interest in topics under review.

The Endowment manages a grant program, jointly funded with the USFS. The results from this meeting will help guide funding priorities for this partnership. Across the one-third of America covered in forests, landowners — whether public or private — long for economically-viable markets for small-diameter, dead and dying trees. In some cases, wood-to-energy facilities may provide just such an option while helping bridge America to a more distributed, domestic energy source, that helps keep forests as forests.

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