Biomass potential discussed at conference

November 20, 2013
BETHLEHEM — Dozens assembled at the White Mountain School last week to discuss biomass heating. Plentiful wood supplies in the region lead towns, schools, and companies to consider local energy to reduce the need for fossil fuels.

The Ammonoosuc Regional Energy Team sponsored the conference. The group provides suggestions on energy efficiency. For more information, visit

Several companies had staff at the conference. Superintendents Keith Pfeifer and Pierre Couture were on hand, as well. SAU 36 was also represented. Some town selectmen and school board members were in attendance, as well as staff from U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen and Representative Annie Kuster.

Rick DeMark, of the North Country Resource Conservation and Development Council, provided opening remarks. He mentioned the NH Wood Energy Support Team. This statewide forum shares information and strategic recommendations for those interested in biomass. The team serves as a coordinator, educator, and facilitator to help people develop wood heating projects.

Attendees heard about the experiences of the Town of Littleton, Littleton Regional Healthcare, and Grafton County. Each of these entities has made major investments in biomass heating this year.

Tony Ilacqua, chairman of Littleton's energy conservation committee, said the committee studied biomass for over a year. Because of the cost savings and use of local fuel, Ilacaqua suggested biomass was "a no brainer." The town's $130,000 biomass pellet unit heats both the fire station and town garage.

LRH is currently constructing its new biomass plant. Henri Wante, Director of Facilities, said LRH was spending about $725,000 on fuel oil each year. An annual savings of more than $400,000 is expected after the switch to local wood chips. The new system, Wante said, should pay for itself in less than six years.

Grafton County Commissioner Martha Richards discussed the biomass project at the county complex. She thanked the volunteers from across the county who developed the project. In addition to a $2.3 million biomass plant, the county made several other energy improvements across the complex, Richards said. With 290,000 square feet heated, Richards says about $200,000 in savings is projected in the first year.

Richards welcomed visitors to the new plant. "We love showing it off," she said with a smile.

With the expansion of wood heating, some wonder about the possible negative effects on New Hampshire's forests. Charlie Niebling, from Innovative Natural Resource Solutions, discussed this issue.

Niebling said the United States was "the only country in the world that is still using oil to heat" on a large scale. Data he discussed placed New Hampshire as second in the country, next to Hawaii, on the use of fossil fuels for energy. Vermont and Main ranked third and fourth, respectively.

Based on U.S. Forest Service research from 2012, Niebling suggested New Hampshire's forests can expand biomass supplies without negatively impacting forests. Data shows trees in New Hampshire grow by about 200 million cubic feet per year. All harvests amount to about 135 million cubic feet.

Niebling said the data means 800,000 cords of additional harvests would keep the state at the 84 percent of forest cover that prevails now.

In conclusion, Niebling suggested "heating the North Country with wood" could support local entities instead while also helping the environment. "I really believe New Hampshire can lead the nation," he said.

On Monday, Shaheen commented on the conference. "It's great to see New Hampshire's hospitals, schools, and senior housing projects now adopting biomass heat," the Senator said. She added that strong attendance at the conference "indicates a growing confidence in this technology which will help lower energy costs, reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy, and keep dollars in our local economies."

Thanks for visiting