Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Sustainable Forestry

Renewable Energy Option for Public Facilities in Appalachian Ohio
by Susi Rankis, AmeriCorps VISTA

Rural Action
, in conjunction with the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) holding a workshop on Friday, January 16 to begin a process of learning and discussion about the benefits and risks associated with alternative heating systems in Appalachian Ohio’s public buildings. The workshop is titled “Community Energy Solutions: Heating Rural Schools and Facilities with Woody Biomass” and is being held at Hocking College’s Energy Institute.

“Woody biomass” is a local, low-cost, and renewable energy alternative that has potential for Southeastern Ohio. As temperatures continue to fall this winter one of the dilemmas facing our communities is the need for alternative heating systems in public schools and buildings. And, as the first round of steep heating bills arrives this month on the desks of administrators across our region, that question becomes all the more pertinent.

The volatile costs of fossil fuel sources, coupled with growing uncertainty about the future of traditional energy sources, are forcing our local communities to re-evaluate the ways in which they meet their energy demands. Despite the fact that the cost of natural gas has dipped more than 25 percent in recent months and fuel oil is down 17 percent in price, the cost of heating this winter is expected to increase at least 5 percent for most buildings across the country.

The uncertain prices of fossil fuel heating has led to wood fuel being increasingly recognized as a more steady and reliable source for heat production. The use of wood fuel, or “woody biomass,” as a heating source also has the added benefit close to zero net carbon dioxide emissions because of its place within the natural carbon cycle.

Projects around the U.S. are demonstrating that woody biomass can be harvested to fuel schools and public facilities. Rural school districts around the country have begun converting their heating systems to biomass systems in order to meet their energy demands and defray the cost of traditional fuel. Even large cities like St.Paul, Minn. are following suit with most of the buildings in the downtown district being heated and cooled from wood fuel.

The workshop has three main objectives – to inform school districts and administrators about the use of wood boilers and local energy resources, to address forest management policies for landowners and natural resource professionals, and to begin discussing implication strategies for building and reinforcing local economies.

The meeting will be held on Friday, January 16 at the Hocking College Energy Institute and will address biomass options for Ohio schools, focusing particularly on rural districts where wood fuel is not only beneficial for schools but also has the potential to create jobs and economic growth within communities. The workshop will give an overview of woody biomass opportunities in Ohio, as well as inform attendees about industries that are utilizing biomass across the country.

Registration is $15.00, which will cover the cost of lunch and materials. You may view a full agenda and register online at ( There are also scholarships available for school district employees who wish to attend the event.

If you have additional questions, or would like to attend, please contact Susi Rankis (740.767.4938) or email her (


Woody Biomass Markets: Current Use and Opportunities for Ohio
Matt Bumgardner, U.S. Forest Service

Opportunities for District Energy: The Community Wood Energy Program
Lew McCreery, U.S. Forest Service
Harnessing the Power of Local Wood Energy: A Case Study for School Facilities
Caitlin Cusack, Private Consultant

Cost & Benefit of Installing a Wood Heating System In Schools and Public Facilities
Larry Klope, Messersmith Combustion Systems

Forest Management: Lessons Learned
Dr. Zander Evans, The Forest Guild

Biomass Retrieval: Nutrient Cycling and Ecosystem Health
Gary Willison, Wayne National Forest

Emerging Policy and Funding Streams
Dale Arnold, Ohio Farm Bureau

Ohio Air Regulations and Environmental Permits
Ralph Witte, Environmental Protection Agency

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