The State of Biomass Heat: A 2012 Reflection

By Joseph Seymour and Charlie Niebling | October 08, 2012

October means many things to many people, including baseball, budgets and biomass. While the boys of October battle for a pennant, the heating season has the biomass industry reflecting on the progress in 2012, and projecting for 2013 budgets and priorities. We would like to share our reflection of the state of the biomass thermal industry, as well as progress the Biomass Thermal Energy Council has made in 2012 and how our achievements will shape the new year.

 We are proud to report that the association reached a record 100 members and stands strong with proven staff and numerous biomass thermal initiatives at the state and federal levels, a reflection of BTEC's persistence and determination over several years. This progress has been hard-earned, due in large part to the financial resources and talent BTEC members and associates have contributed in support of the organization's agenda to advance biomass thermal. 

 Federal policy remains a pillar of BTEC's activities, despite the apparent gridlock in Congress and the looming presidential election. Working with Senate Energy Committee Chair Jeff Bingaman, BTEC helped draft S. 3352, an investment tax credit for highly-efficient commercial and industrial biomass heating systems. This first-of-its-kind bill would level the playing field for biomass thermal technologies with other renewable energy pathways and open the door for existing federal programs. Two other priorities include extension of the credit for residential biomass heating systems and shaping the next Farm Bill (complete with its suite of biomass energy programs). In addition to legislation, BTEC co-hosted multiple congressional biomass briefings that addressed the overlooked opportunity of biomass thermal energy.

 BTEC's efforts to promote thermal policies are extending beyond the federal level to state legislatures and agencies. The tireless work of advocates in the Northeast, the Midwest and the Pacific Northeast, to name a few regions, have helped change state-level policy emphasis on biomass heating. BTEC has submitted letters of support, notified local leaders, and spread the good news on these achievements far and wide, planting the seeds of success beyond state lines. As an example, the inclusion of thermal energy in New Hampshire and Maryland’s renewable portfolio standards (RPS), and the study of thermal in Massachusetts’ RPS, will create markets for your equipment, fuels and services. BTEC cannot replace grassroots state associations, but our resources can amplify and accelerate the message.

 This year's educational and outreach activities have gone hand-in-hand with the association's policy priorities.  In March, BTEC successfully concluded a major outreach effort, supported by the U.S. Forest Service's Wood Education and Resource Center, that funded many webinars, factsheets and interviews. Volunteer contributions from BTEC members helped reach the following impressive metrics:

• 8,000-plus views of the BTEC webinar page, with 1,373 views of the live recordings.

• 2,458 webinar attendees with an average webinar rating of 3.8 out of a possible 5.

• 1,300 views of the factsheet resources webpage.

• 700 visits to the audio interview webpage.

• 24 virtual tours of biomass thermal installations.

A separate grant from WERC that seeks to better engage architects and engineers on biomass heating is reaching new audiences, including the U.S. DOE and biomass energy manufacturers. This grant will continue into 2013.  

With a promising start to 2012, the remaining months bring both opportunity and strategic reflection. In the fall, BTEC staff will launch a registry and provide plaques for new biomass thermal installations to bring greater public visibility to successful projects. Also, BTEC will engage members for an industry survey and produce several webinars on new biomass thermal markets. The fall season will also see changes to the association's 2013 program plan and election of new board members and officers. Input will help guide and position BTEC's leadership and resources in an ever-changing business and policy environments.

 We can say unequivocally that BTEC's hard work has led to widespread recognition of biomass thermal as a vital element of our nation's energy policy. It is remarkable to think how far we have progressed in less than four years since our founding. We know there are serious needs in the biomass thermal industry: financial, regulatory, public acceptance and education. BTEC was founded with the sole mission of advancing the use of biomass for thermal energy applications, and support of the association helps meet those vital industry needs. Now is the time to add your voice to this growing biomass momentum.

Authors: Joseph Seymour
Executive director, Biomass Thermal Energy Council
Charlie Niebling
Chairman, Biomass Thermal Energy Council