Small Town Big on Biomass

Biomass energy doesn't just promote healthy, economically viable forests, but also sustainable communities where land can be kept in production and where young people have opportunities to follow in the footsteps of generations before them.
By Bob Cleaves | June 05, 2014

We spend a lot of time talking about what is happening in Washington, D.C., as that is where important decisions that affect our industry are made. Rather than getting in the TSA line for a flight there as I typically do on a Monday morning in early May, however, I hopped in my car and travelled to Lyme, N.H., (via the Meldrin Thomson Memorial Highway for political junkies who remember former N.H. Gov. Thomsen’s controversial and colorful terms in office). Lyme, a small town along the Connecticut River bordering Vermont, was the location of a roundtable discussion with Rep. Annie Kuster, a second-term House member representing northern New Hampshire, and a long-time champion of the forestry sector.

The story of Lyme is like so many towns in New Hampshire. Tight-knit families with generations committed to preserving their heritage, way of life, and natural beauty. Historic protection is everywhere (there are 27 horse sheds located behind the Congregational Church, reportedly the oldest of their kind in the nation), and the preservation of farms and nearby forests have won the town leadership awards. Like so many other rural towns across New England, it also values its working forests, and is home to well-respected firms like Wagner Forest Products and Lyme Timber—household names in the biomass industry.

But the tour of Lyme was simply a bonus for me. I was there at the invitation of Jason Stock, the long-time leader of New Hampshire Timber Owners, and Dan Sakura, formerly with the Conservation Fund and now part of the team at the National Association of Forest Owners. Stock and Sakura invited stakeholders from the entire biomass value chain—from landowners to foresters, from pellet fuels advocates to biopower, as well as public agencies and NGOs—to meet with Kuster, a leader who “gets it” when it comes to the importance of wood products.

We were reminded that the value of New Hampshire’s forest products industry is enormous—more than $3.8 billion in annual market value. We also heard from the Forest Service about the role of working forests throughout the North Country, about efforts to preserve endangered species while fighting pests most likely brought on by climate change, about the importance of pellets in reducing reliance on oil, about the threats to the paper industry and the importance of communities like Whitefield, Springfield and Berlin, N.H., which are home to bioenergy facilities. We also heard about the need for regulatory certainty, markets and predictable and fair tax policy.

Rep. Kuster reminded us that what is at stake here is not just healthy, economically viable forests, but sustainable communities where land can be kept in production and where young people have opportunities to follow in the footsteps of generations before them. According to a study performed by the North East State Foresters Association, the forest products industry is responsible for creating some 23,000 jobs in New Hampshire alone.

I was impressed by the enthusiasm coming out of our meeting in Lyme, grateful for the opportunity to share our vision with Kuster, and confident that sustainable energy sources like biomass will continue to play a role in the production of renewable energy and in supporting the working forests of rural America.

Author: Bob Cleaves
President and CEO, Biomass Power Association