Bioenergy: Another Path to Sustainability and Prosperity

(#274)  – If our local economy is to shake off the 40 years of recessionary economic conditions that have eroded the quality of life for tens of thousands of our neighbors, we need to set policy that gives highest priority to public and private investment in local renewable resources that gives us greater savings, better results, and increased revenue. A recent local symposium on bio-mass energy opened another major opportunity for Sullivan County to capture these benefits.

Our area has some of the highest energy costs in the nation and our higher dependence on fossil fuels for heating locks us into fuel sources that are the most polluting and the fastest rising in price.  Propane and oil heating expenses in Sullivan County are $66,000,000 and $52,000,000 of those dollars of ours are exported from New York State.  We can keep 80% of that heating cost in county and do it in a way that keeps energy prices from going up.

We can lower the cost of heating, generate new jobs and revenue for local businesses while gaining substantial benefits to personal and environmental health.

For example, oil costs per million btu is $27.54. The equivalent cost for wood pellets is $18.93, wood chips $7.75 and grass bales $6.52.  There is some loss in energy density in these natural, renewable, local products, but the overall local savings and revenue generation are in the tens of millions.

Bio-mass products are abundant in Sullivan County.  There has always been a tradition of using wood for heating.  New innovations such as wood and grass pellets, more efficient residential stoves and commercial boilers, have added a convenience factor that favors rapid expansion of bio-mass product. The weight and the high volume of these products also mean local manufacturing as well as con- sumption is essential for profitability. New local zoning and priority promotion by our economic development agencies can incentivize such facilities and local job creation.

Bio-mass agriculture and forest underutilized resources are a very efficient source of heat for our churches and synagogues, schools, government, commercial buildings.  A energy district is currently under design to integrate bio-mass with solar electric, solar thermal and wind from which we will save several hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and learn a lot about how to customize locally produced energy resources that are far more affordable, cleaner, renewable, produce jobs and keep dollars here.

We can unite our communities by using local, renewable bio-mass natural resources rather than natural gas. Municipal and private local energy cooperatives can qualify for seed money to kick start the planning process while public education and much more effective engagement with private sector local financial institutions and householder investment in these new energy producers garners all the investment needed.

Bio-mass energy is definitely a major new path to helping our households and businesses by creating savings at the same time as revenue increases.  The three bottom lines – local economic, environmental and social equity – are at the center of this opportunity that is waiting for local private and public leadership.

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