Summary

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) hosted a briefing on how clean, renewable, efficient biomass heating can contribute to job creation, economic development, and energy security in communities across the country, as well as ways in which policies can help overcome some of the existing challenges and barriers to biomass use in the residential, commercial, and institutional sectors.

Highlights:

  • The cost of heating with fuel oil is expected to reach record levels this winter. Propane prices are up sharply, too. And, heating with electricity is the least efficient and most expensive alternative of all. Advanced, state-of-the-art biomass furnaces and boilers can reduce heating costs dramatically compared to heating oil, propane, and electricity. Advanced biomass boilers, furnaces, and stoves are highly efficient, with very low emissions.
  • Biomass heating (and cooling) systems can be installed in a wide variety of residential, commercial, institutional, industrial, and agricultural settings.
  • Rural school districts across the country that have installed biomass heating systems report substantial savings on heating costs.
  • Biomass fuel is 100% renewable. In most regions of the country, there is an ample supply of local biomass that could be produced and harvested sustainably.
  • Using biomass for heating is the most energy efficient use of biomass resources.
  • Shifting to biomass heating could create thousands of jobs in rural America where they are needed most.
  • With locally produced biomass heating, community energy dollars can be conserved and invested locally, instead of exporting them to large, distant, energy corporations and overseas.
  • Changing out old, inefficient, highly polluting fireplaces, wood boilers, and wood stoves can contribute importantly to improving air quality in many communities across the country.
  • Biomass production for energy can be an important component in comprehensive, sustainable forest management plan that advances multiple environmental, social and economic values.
  • The role and potential of biomass heating is largely ignored in federal energy policy. Biomass thermal energy should be treated the same under federal policy as other renewable energy technologies in the electric power and liquid biofuels sectors (parity).
  • Policies should promote the development of bioenergy markets at a scale that is appropriate for sustainable biomass production (i.e. smaller scale works best for advancing multiple local values).
  • Policies should be designed to optimize a variety of integrated objectives such as job creation, economic development, ecosystem management, and renewable energy.

Background:
This winter is already off to a brutal, early start in the Northeast, adding to economic hardship that many there were already experiencing. On top of this, the Energy Information Agency is forecasting that the average household expenditure for heating oil this winter will increase by eight percent ($193) over last year, “higher than in any previous winter.” The cost of heating with propane is forecast to rise seven percent. Approximately eight million households in the U.S. use heating oil, and about six million homes use propane for heat. Further, biomass heating is much less expensive on average than electric heat, which is another major heating source across rural America. As more and more households and businesses seek alternatives to high heating bills, how can conversion to the cleanest, most efficient, advanced bioheat technologies be encouraged?

Sustainably-produced biomass can provide a more affordable, more secure, locally-produced alternative fuel in many regions of the country. Modern, advanced, EPA-certified wood energy appliances are readily available to serve residential, commercial and institutional heating needs. Developing local biomass heating and fuel businesses creates needed jobs and circulates energy dollars closer to home.