|2012 Vermont Woodchip and Pellet Heating Conference|
Held on January 16, 2012
National Life Group Headquaters, Montpelier, Vermont
Biomass Use in Vermont Today and Tomorrow was the theme of this year's Vermont Wood and Pellet Heating Conference. This event, which has grown in both attendance and the range of information covered since its original inception 16 years ago, brought together 160 of the state’s and surrounding area’s most experienced woodchip and pellet system operators, fuel suppliers, equipment manufacturers, and service providers to share and explore the latest information and engage in peer-to-peer learning about community-scale systems. New this year, the program included sponsors and vendor exhibits whose displays of equipment and one-on-one delivery of information added an additional dimension to the event for both current and potential biomass users. The conference venue at National Life gave attendees the opportunity to participate in a special guided tour of National Life’s recently installed, state-of-the-art biomass facility, including the electrostatic precipitator emissions-control equipment and fuel delivery/handling system. What follows is a summary of the day’s activities, including links to the newly released Vermont School Wood Users Survey and the speakers’ Powerpoint presentations.
Opening RemarksBrenda Quiroz Maday, the executive director of the Biomass Energy Resource Center (BERC), opened the program with a warm welcome and appreciation to everyone for their presence, including the sponsors and presenters.
She then turned the podium over to Paul Frederick, wood utilization specialist at the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation, who gave an overview of what attendees should expect over the course of the day. Frederick introduced the keynote speaker, Vermont Agency of Natural Resources Deputy Director Christopher Recchia, who before giving his presentation, introduced Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin. Governor Shumlin spoke about climate change and the need to work toward a reduction of fossil fuel use, mentioning the impacts resulting from the unprecedented occurrence of severe weather experienced throughout the state in 2011. He discussed Vermont’s need to expand its use of renewable energy, citing the work of everyone in the room as important steps in that direction.
Vermont Agency of Natural Resources Deputy Secretary Recchia took the podium to present the keynote address entitled, “Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan: Vermont’s Energy Future.” He began by discussing the work of the Biomass Energy (Bio-E) Development Working Group, a state legislature-appointed committee charged with addressing the promotion and development of the state’s woody biomass industry while maintaining Vermont’s forest health. He then began an overview of the new Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan (CEP), noting its three main areas of focus: efficiency, thermal, and land use. Some points included: the state’s total energy use by sector is broken down as 1/3 commercial, 1/3 residential, 1/3 commercial/industrial; energy use has doubled in the state since 1960 with the areas of most growth seen in electricity and transportation; Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions peaked in 2004 and due to efficiency measures already taken (the least costly way to reach our energy savings needs in homes and businesses) has begun to go down; Vermont’s electricity supply is one of the cleanest in the country, fueled by 40% renewable energy sources, with renewables accounting for 23% of the total energy use across the state; CEP calls for total energy use to be provided almost exclusively by renewables by 2050. Recchia then outlined the benefits that can be realized, various strategies per energy sector, and recommendations under the areas of efficiency, thermal, and land use. [For additional details, view Powerpoint presentation in PDF format]
Operators TrackPaul Frederick, Wood Utilization Specialist from the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation, moderated the session for operators of woodchip systems. He was the first speaker in this track, presenting on Wood Fuel Market Trends. Schools in Vermont used 25,420 tons of woodchips in the 2010-2011 heating season, a slight increase over the 23,271 tons used in 2009-2010.This heating season was the first time that pellet use in Vermont schools had been tracked through surveys, with the six pellet systems using a total of 660 tons of pellets. The average price of woodchips and pellets in the 2010-2011 heating season had not increased from the 2009-2010 prices, while oil and natural gas prices paid by schools had risen slightly. He noted that the number of both woodchip and bulk pellet suppliers in the state had risen slightly—to 14 chip suppliers and 4 bulk pellet suppliers. Overall trends in the wood fuel market include increasing demand from both power and paper plants, and a shortened harvest season due to the flooding from tropical storm Irene and wet conditions throughout the fall. These trends are likely to result in some price increases in wood fuels over the following year. There were some questions and concerns raised by operators about proposed power plants in Vermont and New Hampshire and their effects on the supply and prices of wood fuels as well as overall effects on the forest resource. [For additional details, view Powerpoint presentation in PDF format]
John Hinckley, Senior Consultant, Resource Systems Group presented on Emissions Standards. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is finalizing Maximum Available Control Technologies (MACT) rules for area sources. He clarified what the new rules mean and how they will affect existing woodchip and pellet systems in Vermont. All systems will be required to have a tune-up every two-to-five years depending on the size. He reminded all operators to register their systems as an area source with the EPA if they had not already done so. [For additional details, view Powerpoint presentation in PDF format]
A panel discussion followed with Carl Bielenberg from Better World Energy, Karl Bissex of KAB Enterprises, and Roger Wallace of Addison Biomass Energy. Bielenberg discussed the evolution of the technology over the course of the last decade and a half, highlighting developments in the areas of operator controls and computerization, and air-emissions controls. Bissex talked about developments in pellet systems as an affordable alternative for smaller facilities. Wallace discussed his organization’s work in updating and renovating outdated system controls with more efficient and user-friendly computerized controls. [For additional details, view Powerpoint presentations in PDF of Bielenberg, Bissex, and Wallace]
Exploratory Track: Biomass 101The exploratory track began as a joint session with an overview of heating with biomass given by BERC Operations Manager Sarah Galbraith. Galbraith explained that biomass fuels can be forest or farm derived, like woodchips or manure, respectively, or they can be dedicated crops such as willow, poplar, or grasses that are grown for the specific purpose of making fuel. The benefits of using these fuels include reduced heating costs, replacing imported fossil fuels with locally available renewable fuels, improved energy security, retaining energy dollars in the local community, and supporting jobs. Often, the type of technology chosen is based on the size of the heat load: towards the smaller end, cordwood and wood pellets make the most sense; towards the larger end, woodchips are often the better choice; in the middle, often wood pellets or woodchips could make sense. A technical expert should be engaged to make the best decision and to assist with designing any new wood heating system. [For additional details, view Powerpoint presentation in PDF format]
Exploratory Track: Large-Scale Woodchip SystemsTim Maker with Community Biomass Systems began the breakout exploratory session focused on large-scale woodchip heating and combined heat and power (CHP) systems by explaining the various types of applications. He gave examples, such as regional high schools, community district energy systems, campus district energy systems at colleges, and heat-led CHP, in which heat is the primary product produced and electricity is made as a secondary product using any excess steam. [For additional details, view Powerpoint presentation in PDF format]
Barry Bernstein with Better World Energy and Messersmith Manufacturing gave an overview of the woodchip heating system at Champlain Valley Union High School. He explained the history of the system and how it was paid for and walked participants through each component of the system from the chip bin and truck access to fuel conveyors to the boiler and the multi-cyclone. [For additional details, view Powerpoint presentation in PDF format]
Bruce Hamilton from North Country Hospital gave the history and overview of the woodchip combined heat and power (CHP) system at the hospital, beginning with the history of the project, and overview of the system, and an explanation of how it was financed. Hamilton shared that one advantage to the year-round CHP operation is better fuel supply contracting terms, since this is a year-round contract (the system provides heat, cooling, and year-round electricity) as compared to woodchip heating customers who only purchase woodchips during the heating season. He concluded with an overview of savings generated by this system and a listing of some lessons learned in constructing a new woodchip CHP system. [For additional details, view Powerpoint presentation in PDF format]
Steve Letendre from Green Mountain College gave a non-technical overview of the College’s recently installed woodchip campus heating system. Letendre explained that the College’s environmental mission was core to the decision to install the woodchip heating system and that it fit well with its goal of carbon neutrality. The system has also become a learning tool for students in their work and research. Letendre reviewed the campus layout and the number of buildings served by this heating system, and explained the economics of the system including capital cost, financing, and estimated pay back. [For additional details, view Powerpoint presentation in PDF format]
Tim Maker concluded the session with an overview of the woodchip campus heating system planned for construction this spring at Goddard College. Maker is the project manager for this system installation and shared a technical overview of the design and plans. This system will help the college meet its goal to be completely off of oil. An unusual residency program at the college, which includes students being on-campus in short rotations, required a zoned approach to district piping so that heat distribution loops could be turned on and off to accommodate changing residency patterns. [For additional details, view Powerpoint presentation in PDF format]
Exploratory Track: Small-Scale Pellet SystemsA panel moderated by Norm Etkind, director of the School Energy Management Program of the Vermont Superintendents Association discussed small-scale pellet system installation and usage. Adam Sherman, BERC Fuel Supply Program Director, concentrated on pellet fuel quality, delivery, and storage. Quality among grades of pellets can vary due to many factors, with the biggest culprit being ash content. The Pellet Fuels Institute’s set of standards is undergoing many changes, which will be finalized in 2012. These changes have included the elimination of the Super Premium grade distinction. The availability of pellets has increased over the past few years due to an increase in pellet mills in the New England area, though there is only one pellet mill currently operating in Vermont. An ever-growing amount of pellet brokers and distributors, however, has also made pellets more accessible. In addition, pellet delivery systems have seen many technological advances. Sherman concentrated on the use of pneumatic deliveries, which have been adopted by companies such as Newton Pellets, Vermont Renewable Fuels, Maine Energy Systems, and Sandri Energy. These pneumatic systems reduce pellet breakage during delivery and can include dust control systems. A variety of storage options are available to users, such as outdoor grain silo bins, rigid metal bins, timber-framed fabric bins, and V-bottom rigid bins. [For additional details, view Powerpoint presentation in PDF format]
Jeff Forward of Forward Thinking emphasized biomass heating as a business opportunity. He discussed the costs and financing of wood pellet systems, and how to approach chief decision makers with such prospects. A facility should consider using pellet fuel if they have access to bulk delivery within a 200-mile radius, if they have space available for a boiler and for pellet storage on site, and if their heating fuel bills are large enough to offset the capital expenditures required for purchase and installation. Incremental equipment costs can be anywhere between $15,000-$300,000 depending upon the system chosen, the size of the facility, and its heating requirements. Staff should also be available to monitor and clean the system several times a week, usually around one hour per week for a typical school. Forward then compared the costs of wood pellets to woodchips, noting that pellets have a smaller initial capital expenditure but generally a higher fuel price. Containerized pellet boiler systems, however, have an extremely simple installation. It is currently difficult for pellets to compete with natural gas as the net cost per million Btu of the latter is $9.38 while the cost of pellets is about $18.15. This still vastly outperforms the cost of propane, however, which is currently about $33.97. When approaching the final decision makers, discuss the immediate benefits of adopting the new system. If payback takes years and capital expenditures are high, decision makers will often want to postpone making a choice until they have greater finances. It should be emphasized, however, that postponing a decision is still making a decision—the decision to cost the company money it could otherwise begin saving today. Forward concluded his presentation by informing the audience of the Vermont Biomass Project, which is offering a no-cost preliminary feasibility study for facilities exploring the potential for pellet or woodchip systems. Applications are due March 1st, 2012, and candidates will be chosen by March 15th. [For additional details, view Powerpoint presentation in PDF format]
Trevor Parsons of Housing Vermont discussed the installation of pellet systems in property on Pleasant Street, located in Enosburg, Vermont. Three Froling pellet boilers were installed to heat 24 units, covering 8,000 square feet per biomass boiler. Three grain silos are used and can hold about 10-12 tons each. A back-up oil system is also present in case of emergency. Maintenance is required once every 2-3 weeks, though Parsons recommended utilizing an electronic data-acquisition method if no onsite maintenance staff is present. He then discussed the challenges of the current system, such as delivered pellet quality. They are currently exploring the possibility of using a pneumatic delivery system to improve the situation. [For additional details, view Powerpoint presentation in PDF format]
Dylan LaFlam, Facilities Director of Craftsbury Academy, discussed the recent installation and initial results of the school’s new pellet system. The school opted to use pellets over chips due to a more consistent moisture content and cheaper options for storage. It is using the ACTbioenergy/Elite 3200 boiler, which allows the option to use chips in the future. A 36-ton Brock feed silo is used for storage, which includes a ladder and pneumatic fill tube. Two 28-ton deliveries have been deemed necessary for this year’s heating season. LaFlam then discussed operations and maintenance and gave a few recommendations to new users. First, he emphasized the need to monitor ash. Second, he discussed their installation of heat exchanger cleaning gears, which turn the tubes every two hours and eliminate the need to disassemble the system and manually clean the tubes annually. He noted the time required to maintain the system, which he expects to drop drastically within the upcoming years as maintenance people become more familiar with the system. It currently takes approximately 10 minutes per day to monitor the system, though by next year it may only take about 10 minutes per week. LaFlam uses a monthly checklist to further monitor the system, which takes between 30-90 minutes per month. Between December 2010 and December 2011, 44 hours of staff time were required for maintenance and three breakdowns occurred, though they were easy to fix in-house. A conservative estimate projects payback within 6.25 years, maximum. [For additional details, view Powerpoint presentation in PDF format]
Norm Etkind, Director of the School Energy Management Program of the Vermont Superintendents Association, briefly discussed small-scale pellet users’ reactions to their systems. Those with systems installed after 1990 had few complaints, if any. Those with systems installed prior to 1990 were mostly dissatisfied, though the factors they listed have since been corrected in subsequent manufacturing and installations thanks to a steep learning curve and advancements in engineering. [For additional details, view Powerpoint presentation in PDF format]
Legislative UpdateVermont State Senator Ginny Lyons presented an update on the work of the Biomass Energy (Bio-E) Development Working Group of the Vermont State Legislature, the final report of which is due out on January 17, 2012. She described it in terms of the principals of energy planning in Vermont, including the implications of climate change with a goal toward increased use of renewable energy. Recommended policies include goals toward efficiency, job creation, development of timber harvest infrastructure, air-quality, timber stand improvement, etc. along with incentivizing the development of the biomass industry. In addition to Vermont itself, the regional concept—how to work with neighboring states—is important as is the development of procurement standards, continued funding for the Vermont Clean Energy Development Fund to support new biomass systems, grants and low-interest loans available from the Vermont Economic Development Authority, and resumption of funding for capital costs for biomass in schools and district heating in communities. Key to proceeding is to do so thoughtfully, sustainably, encouraging forest health and economic development, and educating the legislature and others. [For additional details, view Powerpoint presentation in PDF format]
Vermont School Woodchip SurveyNorm Etkind, director of the School Energy Management Program of the Vermont Superintendents Association, presented the annual survey results of the 2010-11 heating season [see latest survey results for all systems and break out of systems installed since 2000]. Forty-three public schools use woodchips as their major source of heat, comprising 5,627,676 square feet and serving 27,341 students. This is about 35% of the total square footage and 30% of Vermont students. 25,420 tons of chips were used last year, displacing the equivalent of 1,557,648 gallons of oil. In aggregate, these schools saved $2,607,271 on their fuel bills or about 53% of their fuel cost with a savings range of 9%-79% (disparity due to the range in fuel costs and utilization). The average chip price was $55.78 per ton (down from $56.42 previous year). On average, operators spent an hour a day maintaining their systems during the heating season with an average of 179 days that the systems were in operation (the range was 106-266). Overall satisfaction with the systems ranged from 2-10 with an average of 8.9. For new systems the average was 9.2 with a range from 8-10. Five schools had pellet systems: People’s Academy in Morrisville; Twinfield Union in Marshfield, Craftsbury Academy, Elm Hill Elementary in Springfield, and Burke Mountain Academy. The average price paid for pellets was $225/ton (compared to $226 last year). While the data is incomplete, the total tons of pellets used according to survey results was 666, or the equivalent of 79,157 gallons of oil saved. The average fuel cost savings was 25% (range was between 14%-47% with the biggest factor being days on line). [For additional details, view Powerpoint presentation in PDF format]
Peer-to-Peer Question & Answer SessionSarah Galbraith, Operations Manager at BERC, moderated this Q&A session where there were several questions on the subjects of wood availability for growth of the biomass industry, imported wood products, the effects of price hikes in pellet fuel, and others.
Overview of National Life's Biomass Energy SystemTim Shea, 2nd Vice President for Facilities, Purchasing & Contracting for National Life, gave an overview of the company's biomass system that went into operation in December of 2010. He discussed the process of why the company decided to explore a biomass energy system as part of its 'greening' of the facilities, citing 'People, Planet, Profit.' He detailed some of the other initiatives taken such as waste diversion, alternative transportation, and other carbon-reduction measures. As the biomass system itself was in the planning process, National Life had set a goal of hiring as many local people as possible, choosing a Vermont firm to install the system and involving many local electrical, mechanical, and system contractors as possible. The company was also able to stop importing fuel from out of state, contracting instead with a woodchip supplier just 20 miles away. A showcase aspect of the system is the state-of-the-art electrostatic precipitator (ESP), one of the first emissions-control equipment its kind in the region to be used on a system of this scale. He noted how the facility team had raised concerns about the potential for extra work involved in the chip system, but after learning to operate the system realized that their fears were unfounded. After completing his presentation, Shea led more than 100 conference participants, in two sets, on a guided tour of both the boiler room and the fuel delivery and handling system before the conference adjourned. [For additional details, view Powerpoint presentation in PDF]
Vermont School Woodchip and Fuel Use Surveys2010-11 Heating Season: All Schools
2010-11 Heating Season: Breakout of Systems Installed Since 2000
2009-10 Heating Season: All Schools
2009-10 Heating Season: Breakout of Systems Installed Since 2000
2008-09 Heating Season: All Schools
2008-09 Heating Season: Breakout of Systems Installed Since 2000
2007-08 Heating Season: All Schools
2007-08 Heating Season: Breakout of Systems Installed Since 2000
2006-07 Heating Season: All Schools
2006-07 Heating Season: Breakout of Systems Installed Since 2000
The Conference Planning Committee
Special thanks to:
Image Captions (from top to bottom)
Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin addresses conference participants.
Vermont Agency of Natural Resources Deputy Secretary Christopher Recchia presents on the new Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan.
Paul Frederick leads the operators track.
Conference participants listening to a presentation during the operators track.
Steve Letendre gives a presentation on Green Mountain College's biomass facility.
Participants in the small-scale pellet session of the exploratory track.
Dylan LaFlam of Craftsbury Academy describes the pellet system at the school.
Facility staff person checking one of the two woodchip boilers at National Life.
For archived summaries of previous chip conferences, click on any of the following: