Imagine a kind of energy that increases acreage of high quality forests, provides good local jobs, and improves our air, rivers, streams, and wildlife. Using local trees to generate local heat and electricity with new, clean burning technologies improves our own health, the health of our economy, and nature. We call this Community Wood Energy, meaning using wood to heat and power our communities’ buildings. Although wood has been used for many centuries to heat homes, it’s use in commercial and public buildings for not just heat, but also for electricity, is what makes this new.
Throughout Virginia are forest lands that would benefit from a little attention. Decades of cutting the best trees and leaving the rest, disease, and pest outbreaks, have left many acres of Virginia’s forests in poor condition. In some areas, heavy snows, ice and high winds have added insult to injury, leaving the forest floor littered with storm debris and raising the risk of wildfires. Where forests are in a degraded condition, actively managing their replanting will ensure that decades from now, there will be more and healthier forests, providing cleaner air, water, and better homes for wildlife.
The recession has hit many local governments particularly hard. Shrunken tax revenues make budget decisions difficult while rising energy prices make those decisions even tougher. Many communities are hurting from the cost of heating their buildings with fuel oil or propane this last winter. Communities in other states facing similar challenges are finding answers to these problems in their local forests. By converting aging heating oil and propane furnaces to high efficiency wood furnaces, communities are finding that the switch to wood provides enough savings to quickly recover the cost of conversion through lower energy bills. The use of local wood for local fuel keeps dollars circulating in the local economy, benefiting our economy, our communities, and the health of our forests.
The Virginia Community Wood Energy Program
Over the course of the next two years the Virginia Community Wood Energy program will increase awareness and use of wood fuels for community energy. With modern technology, wood energy can safely be used for heating, cooling, and electricity generation in our schools, hospital, churches, and other large buildings, all the while providing substantial energy cost savings. Guided by a steering committee representing wood energy stakeholders in Virginia’s communities the program will:
- Provide education and raise awareness about the many benefits of using local wood energy.
- Assemble in one place information on wood energy, technologies, resources, equipment, agencies, consultants, businesses, and funding.
- Identify locations in Virginia that would benefit from a switch to wood fuels and provide them with guidance and assistance.
- Identify sources of undervalued and underutilized wood that could be available for fuel around the Commonwealth.
- Identify financial resources to provide assistance to communities interested in taking control of their own energy.
The activities of the Virginia Community Wood Energy Program are made possible with support provided by
the USDA Forest Service and the Virginia Department of Forestry.
Virginia Department of Forestry – protects and develops healthy, sustainable forest resources for Virginia. By creating markets for trees from harvests that normally wouldn’t have much value, the Community Wood Energy Program brings revenue to landowners, jobs for local forestry crews, and improves the health of Virginia’s forests.
Center for Natural Capital – promotes economic development for ecosystem restoration by growing markets for the environmental services and natural capital that generate them. The Center sees demand for wood as an economic driver that will increase forest cover in the Commonwealth, ultimately resulting in cleaner air and water and improved habitat for the wildlife Virginians cherish.
Virginia Tech – brings their specializations in natural resource education, research and outreach to Virginia, investigating the use of natural biological systems to solve current environmental and natural resource-related issues.
Virginia Cooperative Extension – brings the resources of Virginia’s land-grant universities to the people of the Commonwealth.
Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy – advances sustainable energy practices and behaviors in Virginia by fostering the growth of emerging and sustainable energy industries and infrastructure.
USDA Forest Service – Supports a diverse energy portfolio and the health of our National Forests through the sustainable utilization of woody biomass.