Archive for April, 2011

By Doreen Barker

After reading through the comments and optimism brought back from the HeatNE conference, I have decided that I would like to share some information on some movement within the state (specifically the Southern Tier and Central NY regions). There are at least two programs that are developing that will be of interest.

As some of you know, Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3) has been working on a program called Agriculture Consortia on Renewable Energy & Sustainability(ACRES). Doreen Barker (myself), Rich Barrows, Tony Nekut and Elizabeth Keokosky had the privilege of sitting down with several folks from within not only the TC3 academia but some other schools and organizations as well. The staff at TC3 has put together a grant that would allow for a collaborative 2 day forum to discuss the state of BIOENERGY in upstate NY. The aim is to update and educate key stakeholders about the opportunities and challenges concerning the vital interdependencies between Education-Agriculture-Business and our region’s economic/energy sustainability outlook.  To address these issues they will bring together educators from Bio-Energy programs at post secondary schools, high school teachers, not-for-profit organizations, local farmers, government entities, financial institutions and related bio energy businesses.  The focus of the event will be to gather and brainstorm information from conferring groups and to draft a plan for a Bio-Energy curriculum to be developed for the community college level. The collaboration of stake holders in Education, Agriculture, and Business is key to the development of a successful BIO-ENERGY economy in New York State.

The second program, put together by the Tioga County REAP, is the Stronger Economies Together (SET) will be holding their first meeting this coming Thursday, April 28th. SET was developed by USDA Rural Development and the nation’s Regional Rural Development Centers (RRDC) to help communities and regions work together to pursue regional economic development initiatives. This program will take an in-depth look at regional economic development opportunities and the potential of Bioenergy and renewable land-based resources. I have already been informed that there will be some upcoming changes to the scheduling of these meetings in the future. I will keep everyone up to date with the outcome of those changes after Thursday of this week.

We have also been doing some research into some additional options for units that are being worked on that will have the capabilities of burning multiple fuels. As all of us within the grass energy sector already know, this is going to become a key to our future as time progress on the residential level. As these companies work to clear the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certifications and are able to be sold within NY, I will also be updating those results.

Coming from my perspective, I am excited about bringing grass energy into NY state  within our region. There is an overwhelming need for more extension work. In this area, we are losing farm after farm. Which from the renewable energy stand point is both good and bad. But, we need to keep agriculture within this region alive and thriving. I look forward to this region being able to contribute into the sustainable energy sector much like the examples shown to us by a couple of our “sister” organizations.  We have many hurdles to overcome but with the dedication and teamwork of everyone involved, I am looking forward to an eventful future! We are all working hard to develop a new market within NY and that isn’t an easy accomplishment but with coordination and dedication we CAN create a more sustainable future together.

Until the next time……Keep up the good work!


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Many of us are just back from the annual Heat the NE with Renewable Biomass conference with all sorts of impressions, so, to be timely, the Grass Blog is going to publish several of them at once.  I was there myself for the first time and I, like Gerry below, was glad to meet many of the people I’ve been corresponding with by email and to be energized by the  larger perspective of so many stakeholders working together.   One of the many things that impressed me was the different organizations from Pennsylvania to Maine that sponsored the conference.   I’m going to be looking up BTEC, an organization lobbying for biomass at the national level which might be having a grass interest group (and which I suggest should offer a new lower membership level since not many of us are making our first million yet) and NBTWG, which is a national advocate organization with our particular Northeast interests in mind.   Also BERC, a Vermont based organization, which like many Vermont organizations just seems to do it right (I asked them to add our grass blog to their “Grass Energy Resources” page).   And of course our own NYBEA, which needs our support as they arm wrestle in Albany.

Even as we value and work on the local level,  it is good to be reminded that it takes a multiplicity of levels to to institute the incentives, regulations, and public awareness that biomass needs – (though not all our contributers would agree – see Tony below)

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Now in its third year, the HeatNE conference held April 14-15 in Manchester, NH, had about 500 in attendance, attesting to continued growth of interest in heating and CHP applications of biomass energy. The predominant exhibitor categories were solid fuels (wood pellet manufacturers and distributors), appliances (stove and boiler manufacturers), and trade organizations. I would say that the overarching theme of the conference was how all stakeholders could work together toward raising awareness about the promise of biomass thermal energy and affect policies at the federal, regional, and state level to make sure that biomass thermal is “on the table” when it comes to incentivizing renewable energy development.

While I agree that this is a worthwhile effort that everyone can agree on, I think it may overemphasize the role that government can or should play. I took the opportunity on several occasions to point out that fundamentally, biomass is a distributed resource that is best utilized close to home. I also pointed out that local biomass thermal utilization is already economically advantageous and technically feasible so action can be taken directly at the local level. Government incentives and mandates, although an encouragement, are not really necessary. Government definitely has a role to play when it comes to regulating activities that might adversely affect the common good. Government should also support research and development to advance the state-of-the-art of biomass thermal and CHP in order to meet future regulatory requirements which will be needed as energy from biomass combustion becomes more prevalent.

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I was pleased to actually meet the people with whom I have been interacting. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of interested people who stayed late to meet about Ag biomass. We are a niche of a niche industry. Now to what I learned.

The Grass biomass industry is indeed in it’s infancy.We have a long way to go to break the perception that grass is a inferior solid heat source. I was surprised  by the number of people who thought grass pellets were much lower in energy than wood. They found it hard to believe that grass can have 95% of the BTU’s of premium wood pellets.

It is very understandable that the manufacturers are slow to offer appliances that can handle higher ash fuels as the market for this type of solid fuel is at this point so small. As Libby Murphy stated in her earlier post,there are some who are attempting to produce equipment that will handle grass as well as many other products even including dog food!! The result is more availability of equipment to burn grass.

The wood biomass industry seems to have lowered resistance to other biomass. The feeling I came back with is that if oil and gas prices continue to climb that there is room for other heat sources. The gas and liquid fuel industry on the other hand,  seems to be very resistant to any solid fuel. Big business has put all of its efforts into the use of renewable bio to produce ethanol or bio fuel oil to take the place of oil and gas reserves.

A further initiative seems to be trying to  hobble solid bio-fuel by regulating it to death. Technology has progressed now that a clean burn is now possible. We as an industry need to try to get ahead of this by working together locally, regionally and Federally to make our united voice heard — that we can help the country reduce dependance on fossil fuel. We only have to look to our European friends to see that this is attainable. The presentations by the people from Austria reinforced my belief that we have to continue to move forward with this initiative of promoting grass as a solid fuel energy source.

I came away reassured that what we are doing is important, responsible and necessary. To have a reliable local energy resource is a win-win situation for all involved, farmers, processors, equipment manufacturers, distributors installers, repair people and consumers.

Till next time!

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Introduction – New York State exempts all residential heating fuels from the State level 4% sales tax, but gives counties, cities and school districts the option to levy sales and use taxes. The current situation is reviewed in the Publication 718-R.

It turns out that only 16 of 62 counties levy sales taxes (ranging from 1 ½ to 4 ¾ %) on the grouping that includes coal, fuel oil, firewood, and other biomass fuels (e.g. wood pellets). Counties do not have the option to select which of the fuels in this group they wish to tax: it is all or none. This is the considered opinion of Joe Mareane, the county administrator of Tompkins County, who was asked for his opinion about how the law was to be interpreted. It is not clear why fuels are grouped in this manner, however this is apparently the way that counties are interpreting the Tax Law as written.

There are a number of reasons why these taxation practices are out of step with current realities. Perhaps most importantly, New York has a number of state level programs that recognize and attempt to address greenhouse gas emissions: principally RGGI and RPS. Given that biomass energy is, arguably, carbon neutral, equal taxation of biomass fuel and fossil fuels runs counter to the idea of incentivizing renewables. Indeed, Tompkins County has a greenhouse gas element in its master plan that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. It is widely recognized that America’s dependence on foreign oil is unsustainable and increases national debt. Locally sourced biomass fuels not only address this problem, but create local jobs and support local economies. Ongoing technological improvements in biomass combustion have largely eliminated concerns about environmental impacts. At this time, the revenue impacts on local governments caused by eliminating local taxes on residential biomass heating fuels is minimal because these fuels represent a very small fraction of the residential fuel supply. In addition, most small firewood producers do not even collect the sales tax; this is unfair to larger firewood businesses and wood pellet retailers who do collect the tax.

Objective – The fundamental objective is to use State and local sales taxes to incentivize use of renewable energy (in particular, locally produced and utilized residential biomass heating fuels) over fossil fuel energy. This can be accomplished by reducing taxes on renewables and/or increasing taxes on fossil fuels. Here are several approaches that could be taken:
1) exempt all residential biomass heating fuels at the State level;
2) ungroup coal, fuel oil and biomass to give Counties the choice of different tax rates on each;
3) re-impose State sales tax on non-renewable heating fuels;
4) remove State sales tax on biomass thermal equipment (as with solar equipment);
5) give Counties the option to exempt biomass thermal.

Strategy – The most straightforward way to go after this is at the State level (1,3,4 above). Solid arguments can be made based on local job creation, supporting local economies, increased fuel security, and greenhouse gas emissions reductions. NYBEA is uniquely qualified to make the case. Thus far, I have also enlisted the help of Barabara Lifton’s office (125th Assembly District) and the Tompkins County Environmental Management Council (citizen advisors to the County Planning Department). Similar actions can be taken in other Counties, particularly those that impose sales taxes.

Allies – There are lots of potential allies: large firewood processors, pellet and stove retailers, and environmentally conscious citizens. Push back is likely from coal and fuel oil distributors unless they can be convinced to make biomass fuel sales part of their business.

Breaking News – It was recently brought to my attention that legislation was proposed in January to exempt all renewable residential heating fuels (click here to read proposed legislation).  Please contact your NY State representative and request that they support this legislation.

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HVGE has ramped up our efforts in marketing grass pellets. We are finding a great willingness for collaboration from stove dealers and consumers, especially as oil prices rise. Recently two local stove dealers have been testing our pellets in their Cumberland, Bixby, St. Croix and Fahrenheit stoves with promising results.

I would like to use this post to invite the grass energy community to a special demo from 11 am to 4 pm on Tuesday, April 12th at Tantillo’s Farm, 730 Route 208, Gardiner, NY. LEI Products will be running their Bio-Burner furnace while attendees can also see HVGE’s mobile mill on display and talk with loval stove dealers. The Bio-Burner is a multi-fuel, multi-day, high-efficiency burner/boiler that supports wood chips, saw dust, corn, pellets and other biomass up to 40% moisture content. The company is keen to support grass pellets and tested 1,000 lbs of our pellets in their KY warehouse. Both HVGE and Bio-Burner will be present at the HeatNE conference in Manchester, NH April 14-15 where we will be part of a special discussion on grass pellets.

For more information, please visit


Video of the Bio-Burner burning grass pellets



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