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By: Ellen Kahler

VT Bioenergy Team – L to R (Chris Callahan – UVM Extension, Kirk Shields -- Green Mountain Power, Christy Sterner – US DOE, Larry Scott – Ekolott Farm, Ellen Kahler – VSJF, John Williamson – Stateline Biofuels) at Green Mountain Power’s Energy Innovation Center in Rutland

VT Bioenergy Team – L to R (Chris Callahan – UVM Extension, Kirk Shields — Green Mountain Power, Christy Sterner – US DOE, Larry Scott – Ekolott Farm, Ellen Kahler – VSJF, John Williamson – Stateline Biofuels) at Green Mountain Power’s Energy Innovation Center in Rutland

Vermont can produce more of its own biofuel energy and the environmental and potential economic benefits of local bioenergy have been proven by the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative – a program of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund. Since 2005, the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative has invested more than $2.5 million in innovative bioenergy research, projects, and people so Vermont can locally produce more of the state’s energy needs – from a variety of agricultural and algal feedstocks.

US Senator Patrick Leahy made the investment at this scale possible through Congressionally Directed Awards from the US Department of Energy (US DOE). The funding concludes in early 2016, at which point a complete impact report will be released by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, who has served as the intermediary between the US DOE and 52 individual Vermont bioenergy projects over the past ten years.

Research, development, and early stage demonstration projects have included:

  • Investing in 2 on-farm methane digesters;
  • Building farm-scale infrastructure to turn oilseed crops such as sunflowers into biodiesel to run farm tractors;
  • Growing switchgrass and densifying it into “pucks” that are burned in a high efficiency commercial boiler instead of propane;
  • Identifying the most lipid producing strains of native Vermont algae which can feed off the excess nutrients from methane digesters and can eventually be harvested to make biodiesel or jet fuel;
  • Developing two “Biomass to Biofuels” college level courses which run repeatedly at UVM and VT Tech to inspire and train the next generation of bioenergy experts and technicians;
  • Exploring the logistics of bulk wood pellet delivery systems to Vermonters’ homes;
  • Organizing a number of learning opportunities and conferences for oilseed, grass and algae researchers, farmers and entrepreneurs to attend;
  • Providing agronomic and engineering support to oilseed and grass farmers;
  • Educating the general public about why the local production for local use of energy crops from Vermont farms and forests makes good economic and ecological sense.

 

VT Bioenergy Team 2 – L to R  (Roger Rainville – Borderview Farm, Christy Sterner – US DOE, Heather Darby – UVM Extension, Natasha Rainville – Borderview Farm)  at Borderview Farm, Alburgh VT

VT Bioenergy Team 2 – L to R (Roger Rainville – Borderview Farm, Christy Sterner – US DOE, Heather Darby – UVM Extension, Natasha Rainville – Borderview Farm) at Borderview Farm, Alburgh VT

The Vermont Bioenergy Initiative is a unique effort and one that is gaining resonance in other parts of rural America. The initiative’s resource website, www.VermontBioenergy.com is utilized by biofuel producers, educators, and technical service providers from across the country.

The work conducted over the past ten years by the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative to conduct research, provide technical assistance, and develop infrastructure in emerging areas of bioenergy will continue with the initiative’s partners at UVM Extension and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets. As Vermont moves forward – being innovative and increasingly focused on generating renewable energy from the land and forests – the research and infrastructure the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative has invested in over the past ten years will endure and spawn the next wave of bioenergy development in the state.

Ellen Kahler is executive director of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund (VSJF), a non-profit organization created by the State of Vermont to help develop Vermont’s sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, and forest product businesses. Since 2005, the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative has been a VSJF program that connects diversified agriculture and local renewable energy production for on-farm and community use by supporting research, technical assistance, and infrastructure development in emerging areas of bioenergy including biodiesel production and distribution for heating and transportation, oil crops for on-farm biodiesel and feed, grass for heating, and algae production for biofuels and wastewater management. Learn more at www.VermontBioenergy.com.

River Berry FarmDavid Marchant and Jane Sorensen of River Berry Farm—an organic vegetable and fruit producer in Fairfax—were early adopters of biomass heating when they installed a corn and pellet furnace in one of their greenhouses in 2008. The furnace required manual lighting and was snuffed out often when strong winds blew, and did not produce reasonable heat. “I kept thinking, there has got to be a better option,” recalls David, “It was a real labor burden, and you couldn’t count on it.”

Based on their early experiences and bolstered by a commitment to long-term sustainability and reduced fossil fuel dependence, River Berry Farm opted to host a biomass heating demonstration project. This time, they opted for a higher-rated boiler rather than a furnace. Boilers produce hot water, rather than hot air, which allows more options for distributing the heat. The new system also had an automated propane ignition system.

The biomass heating demonstration was part of a UVM Extension project aimed at trialing several furnaces in agricultural heating applications with funding support provided by the High Meadows Fund. According to Chris Callahan, Ag Engineer with UVM Extension Agricultural Engineering Program who assisted with some of the design and performance assessment, “The main lessons learned from these early installations were to buy high quality fuel, seek improved automatic ignition controls, invest in a good chimney and install it well, and know the actual heat output rating of the unit.”

Modern biomass heating appliances generally include a fuel storage bin, an auger for feeding fuel to the appliance, the appliance itself (boiler or furnace) with an ignition system, a combustion chamber, a heat exchanger, and a heat distribution system. They also incorporate some means of controlling combustion, fuel feed rate, and air flow and often include emissions control measures and automated ash removal.

The selected boiler was a Central Boiler Maxim 250 with a 250,000 BTU/hr input rating, efficiency of 87.8%, and EPA Phase II Hydronic Heater qualification. “The boiler makes hot water which we can use in multiple greenhouses by plumbing it to them in insulated PEX piping.  Once in the greenhouse, we convert to hot air with a hot water fan coil, put it in the ground for root-zone heating or on the benches in our mat-heating system for starts,” says Marchant. “I like it. I keep trying to find something wrong with it, but I can’t. The payback period is a bit longer due to higher initial costs, but you have to expect that.”

The basic system cost was approximately $13,000 for the boiler, bin, pad, and plumbing to a hot water fan coil. The other heat distribution systems included in-ground PEX, heat exchange, and plumbing for a bench heat system and added approximately another $5,000. The system is more automated and reliable than the earlier furnace was, but the higher initial costs and the fact that the system is only used 3 months out of the year do prolong the payback period to about 12 years when compared with a propane furnace. If the system was used for 6 (space heating) or even 12 months (wash water, pasteurization) of the year the payback would be halved or quartered, respectively.

“In addition to the financial payback, the carbon emissions avoidance is also of interest to many people,” says Callahan, “In River Berry Farm’s case, the Maxim is helping them avoid 5,910 pounds of net CO2 emissions per year which is about equivalent to 5,000 miles car travel or the CO2 sequestered by half an acre of pine forest.”

Learn more about UVM Extension’s Agricultural Engineering Program at.

This story was originally released in a series of energy case studies showcasing farms, businesses, vendors, installers, and technical assistance providers who have made a difference with energy efficiency savings and renewable energy production—all of which are components for helping Vermont reach the renewable energy and environmental impact goals of the Farm to Plate Strategic Plan. Learn more at www.vtfarmtoplate.com.

 

Energy Action Seminar SolarEnergy action seminar windmills

Beginning Monday the 14th of September, and reoccurring each week thereafter, an Energy Action Seminar Series aims to explore energy transitions in Vermont, the United States and the rest of the World. Sponsored by the University of Vermont’s Clean Energy Fund, Community Development & Applied Economic program, and the Environmental Program this series will be held from 4:00-05:20 pm in Lafayette Hall Room 108* at the University of Vermont. This series featuring world-class speakers on policy options, political controversy, costs and benefits, activism, and jobs is free and open to the public.

While there is already an extensive line-up of speakers, the most high profile speaker to stand out on the list is former Vice President Al Gore. Gore will draw on his years of climate advocacy for his discourse entitled “The Climate Crisis and The Case for Hope.” When delivering this discourse, Gore aims to address three big questions on the climate crisis: Do we need to change? Can we? And will we? The resounding answer to first two questions of course is a loud YES, but third one most likely cannot be answered in certain terms, and hopefully this where Gore can leave us all with “a case for hope.” NOTE: There is a slight deviation of schedule; this seminar will be on Tuesday, October 6th at 10:15 AM in Ira Allen Chapel.

In addition to Al Gore, numerous other leaders from near and afar will attend and speak during the duration of this series. One such visitor on September 21st, Professor Miranda Schreurs of Free University of Berlin and Director of their Environmental Policy Cente,r stands to bring a plethora of insight from her experience in Germany’s renewable energy revolution. In her time with the Environmental Policy Research Center, Professor Schreurs was on the frontlines of the interdisciplinary collaboration of university researchers necessary for Germany to meet it’s ambitious goal of running almost their entire economy on renewable energy by the year 2050. Germany’s goal is very similar to Vermont’s 2050 goal, and the potential for collaboration and to learn from one another through this event are boundless.

Another great guest speaker will come from Washington, all the way across the US,. Yoram Bauman, more commonly known “Stand-Up Economist,” uses a unique combination of witty comedic talent along with his PhD in Environmental Economics to help an audience explore climate change in an economic context. Yoram’s seminar exploring carbon taxing on October 10th will fall just a couple of days after he serves as the keynote speaker and sits on a carbon pricing panel at the 15th Annual Renewable Energy Conference & Expo in Burlignton, VT. His fresh and recent insight into Vermont’s existing carbon pricing discussion mixed with his existing expertise, and sense of humor will make this event worth not missing.

Additionally, many Vermont energy leaders will be speaking at theses weekly seminars including Representative Tony Klein Chair of  House Energy and Natural Resources, Asa Hopkins Director of Planning for the Department of Public Service, Gabrielle Stebbins Director of Renewable Energy Vermont, and Mary Powell of Green Mountain Power. Each of these speakers, as well as the entities they represent, have proven themselves leaders in the Vermont energy landscape through their involvement in recent energy legislation, advocacy, and innovation.

 

9/14 Energy Transitions Jennie Stephens, Blittersdorf Professor of Sustainability Science & Policy, University of Vermont
9/21 Going Green: The German Energy Transition Miranda Schreurs, Professor, Free University of Berlin Director, Environmental Policy Center
9/28 The Vermont Energy Transition Tony Klein, Chair: House Energy and Natural Resources, Asa Hopkins, Director of Planning, Department of Public Service. Gabrielle Stebbins, Director, Renewable Energy Vermont
10/5 Student Alumni: Making a Difference in the World Panel: Recent UVM grads in energy-related fields
10/6* The Climate Crisis and The Case for Hope  Al Gore, former Vice-President, United States
10/12 Carbon Taxes: Why We Need Them Yoram Bauman,  The world’s only “stand-up” Economist 
10/19 Challenging the Car: Creating places where biking is safe & easy  Steve Clark, League of American Bicyclists, Community Organizer
10/26 Vermont’s Energy Company of the Future:  A Customer Driven Energy Transformation  Mary Powell, President & CEO, Green Mountain Power
11/2 “The War on Coal:”  Big Fossils’ Response to Divestment  Jen Schneider, Political Science Dept. Boise State University
11/9 The Transportation Transition: Complete Streets   Roger Millar, Director, SmartGrowth America
11/16 Energy Transitions in the Developing world: South Africa Settlements   Steve McCauley, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
11/30 Design Matters: Building Green Rolf Keilman, Partner, Truex-Cullins, Vermont

 

* Al Gore presentation is in the Ira Allen Chapel, special time, 10:15 a.m. Oct. 6

For more information contact

Fred Hall                     [email protected]

Roison Low                 [email protected]

Richard Watts            [email protected]

 

 

 

 

 

UVM Extension's Chris Callahan takes notes in the field

UVM Extension’s Chris Callahan takes notes in the field

The Vermont Bioenergy Initiative connects diversified agriculture and local renewable energy production for on-farm and community use by supporting research, technical assistance, and infrastructure development in emerging areas of bioenergy including biodiesel production and distribution for heating and transportation, oil crops for on-farm biodiesel and feed, grass for heating, and algae production for biofuels and wastewater management. Explore the initiative’s extensive and accessible set of bioenergy resources for replication in rural communities across the United States and beyond.

Video

A series of informative educational showcase a range of biofuel possibilities; from research and crop farming to feedstocks and fuel. The videos were developed by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, UVM Extension researchers, KSE Partners, and the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative grantees.

Calculators

Two calculators, developed by UVM Extension, help connect potential costs and profits associated with oilseed production:

Course Work

Textbook

Bioenergy: Biomass to Biofuels; is an innovative new textbook that provides insight into the potential and current advances and benefits of biofuel. Contributions include an extensive list of well-respected university extension programs, such as The University of Vermont Research Extension, as well as numerous national organizations including the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratories.

Reports

A variety of reports are available which cover a range of topics including seed preparation and storage:

Technical Advice

Connect directly with the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative’s technical assistance providers:

Oilseeds for Biofuel

  • Heather Darby, Agronomic and Soils Specialist
    • University of Vermont Extension, Northwest Crops and Soils Team
    • (802) 524-6501
    • [email protected]
  • Chris Callahan, PE, Agricultural Engineer

Grass for Heating Fuel

  • Sidney Bosworth, Extension Professor
    • University of Vermont College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
    • (802) 656-0478
    • [email protected]

Algae for Biodiesel

  • Anju Dahiya, Instructor and Principal

 

 

#vtclimateeconThe Summit on Creating Prosperity and Opportunity Confronting Climate Change brought together over 400 innovative business, non‐profit, and community leaders, elected officials, public policy advocates, students, and interested residents to begin to frame policy and investment strategies to advance the development of the Vermont Climate Economy. Summit participants developed a list of key practical actions to serve as a launching point for the Vermont Climate Change Economy Council (VCCEC), a group charged with a one year mission to develop a structured plan with practical actions to reduce carbon emissions and stimulate green economic development in Vermont. The Council will build a set of public/private strategies designed to promote economic opportunity, innovative business development, investment, and job creation in Vermont.

Over the course of 2015, VCCEC will evaluate findings, key ideas and suggested action steps derived from the Summit, lead regional public forums, evaluate and summarize research findings, interview key stakeholder groups, and consider model economic development strategies from other state and countries. During 2015, the group will develop a strategic platform of recommendations for action, and report to the Vermont legislature, the Governor of Vermont and the public in January 2016. The Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD) will provide support to their work and then help promote the platform of action that comes from its deliberants. Goals of the Vermont Climate Change Economy Council are to:

  • Identify opportunities created by climate change to strengthen Vermont’s economy through strategies advancing key business clusters and economic sectors.
  • Build an increased sense of unity in Vermont around policies to confront and mitigate the impact of climate change and to advance economic opportunities and solutions that respond to climate change.
  • Build a public information campaign to celebrate innovation and Vermont’s green business leadership; internally and externally marketing to build the Vermont brand as an economic/environmental problem solver.
  • Expand Vermont’s economic brand around climate change solutions to retain and attract youth and creative entrepreneurs to locate throughout the state.

Vermont businesses and nonprofits are addressing climate change – both its challenges and opportunities. Their creative solutions are a growing part of our state’s economy. What are your experiences? Do you have ideas about how Vermont can grow jobs and nurture innovative business development in sectors ranging from clean energy, to recycling, transportation systems, and thermal efficiency?

JoRegional_Forum_Flyer5_15_statewide[1]in the Vermont Council on Rural Development and local business leaders at a forum on “What’s Next for Vermont’s Climate Change Economy?” Forums will take place at 7:00pm at the Paramount in Rutland (Aug 26), the Latchis Hotel in Brattleboro (Oct 6), and City Hall in Burlington (Oct 29). Come to the forum(s) most convenient for you.

These forums are the next step for public input to the Vermont Climate Change Economy Council, a group working to develop a practical plan to reduce carbon emissions and stimulate economic development in Vermont. To learn more about the forums and the Council visit VCRD’s website at vtrural.org, download the event flyer (pdf).

For more information about the results of the summit, Click HERE to read the report and follow the hashtag #VTClimateEconomy and Vermont Council on Rural Development on Twitter at @VTRuralDev for more updates!

 

The EAN's 4 Key Leverage Points of capital mobilization, public engagement, technology innovation, and regulatory reform

The EAN’s 4 Key Leverage Points of capital mobilization, public engagement, technology innovation, and regulatory reform

The Energy Action Network (EAN) is a community of  a community of Green Mountain State stakeholders working to change the Vermont energy landscape “to end Vermont’s reliance on fossil fuels and to create clean, affordable energy and secure electric, heating, and transportation systems for the 21st century.” Their goals are consistent with the State of Vermont 2011 Comprehensive Energy Plan, which aims to meet 90% of Vermont’s energy needs through efficiency and renewable sources by 2050.

EAN has identified a series of pathways for Vermont for Vermont to accomplish the paradigm shift of 90% renewables by 2050. Membership is structured into working groups focused on four “leverage points” capital mobilization, public engagement, technology innovation, and regulatory reform. Current projects include alterations to Act 250, changes in zoning laws, programs to promote bringing rental properties into efficiency standards, and assessing current land use for its potential for bioenergy and solar projects.

One notable awareness vehicle, Brighter Vermont, encourages Vermonters to change the way  common energy use and think more about where energy comes from. Read more about how Brighter Vermont helps change energy behavior. EAN also works with municipalities and recently helped Montpelier plan for a 15 year track to become the first state capital to accomplish all of its energy needs with renewable energy. On February 12, 2015 the Montpelier City council accepted and endorsed the plan to make Montpelier a “net zero” city.

Currently, EAN is working with the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund to expand the Vermont Energy Atlas website into the Community Energy Dashboard. The Dashboard will enable communities to understand their energy use and make clean energy choices and investments across all energy sectors—heating, transportation, and electricity. The Dashboard will make energy use visible and understandable to consumers and communities by showing town-level progress toward Vermont’s 90% renewables by 2050 goal. The Dashboard will also shows existing and potential renewable energy sites (solar, wind, hydro, biomass). We will provide updates as they develop. Stay tuned into the Vermont Bioenergy Field Notes blog and visit the Energy Action Network website to learn more.

Brighter VermontThe State of Vermont 2011 Comprehensive Energy Plan calls for 90% of Vermont energy needs to be met through efficiency and renewable sources by 2050. As Vermont residents witness continued high numbers in clean energy jobs, and advanced renewable energy legislation they will also need to take responsibility for Vermont to meet these goals, as every Vermonter will need to contribute in some way for Vermont to meet this ambitious goal. Enter Brighter Vermont, an action oriented program of the Energy Action Network, to help everyday Vermonters rethink where their energy comes from, how they use it in their daily lives, and what they can do to help the state reach its 90% by 2050 goal.

The Brighter Vermont website is packed with testimonials and videos shared by individuals who describe the financial decisions they are making to positively affect the environment, Vermont’s economy, and their wallets. A family in Rutland reports on small home improvement they have made to keep out the Northeast cold out and share a video about lowering energy costs, with the help of Green Mountain Power, by properly weatherizing their home, changing to energy efficient LED bulbs, electing for a heat pump, and adding solar panels. The overall transition has made them a more energy conscious family and was achievable with a ten year loan the family is pleased to see being offset by reduction in energy costs.

A family in Burlington’s journey towards reducing their carbon footprint is documented in a fun testimonial video where the family picks out their first electric vehicle. They were able to replace one of their family vehicles with a zero emission Nissan Leaf (hyperlink to video) that was available with an affordable two year lease. The switch from a classic Vermont staple vehicle, a Subaru, to the Leaf, has helped the family not only save money at the gas pump, but the, as the family reports, electricity used to charge the vehicle comes from renewable energy. They enjoy educating their friends and neighbors about this carbon footprint transition.

Brighter Vermont also hosts ways for businesses, schools, and towns to become more efficient and promote renewables in their community. Methods for how schools and businesses have become more efficient by transitioning to modern wood heating. A featured video produced by VEIC (hyperlink) features 54 schools from across Vermont currently heating with wood chips and pellets which provides heat for nearly one third of k-12 students across Vermont. Our own Vermont Bioenergy Initiative Vermont on-farm energy videos are also featured for farmers to learn more about the emerging areas of oilseed, grass, and algae biofuel.

There is much that needs to be done in the fight against climate change and moving Vermont away from its reliance on fossil fuels. While this road can be daunting, it is important to remember that we can all make small changes that will benefit us, our community, and our state. And the Brighter Vermont website provides a fun and interactive platform for individuals, families, businesses, and institutions to learn how to contribute and share these efforts with others so Vermont can take steps towards meeting our renewable energy goals for our future.

climate summit 1

Vermont is an indisputable leader in sustainable job growth and renewable energy, punching well above its weight in the fight against global climate change. It is because of opportunities like the upcoming summit, Creating Prosperity & Opportunity Confronting Climate Change, that local business, government, non-profit, and higher education leaders will come together to focus on advancement of sustainable job growth in fields that have a positive impact on the environment and local economy. Organizations including the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation, Renewable Energy Vermont, Green Mountain Power, University of Vermont, Energy Action Network, several government agencies, and multiple renewable energy businesses will converge at Vermont Technical College on Wednesday, February 18th for Vermont’s climate change summit sponsored by the Vermont Council on Rural Development. The day will commence with a keynote address from Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin who will speak about “Vermont as Climate Economy Leader.” The recently reelected Governor’s inaugural address, focused heavily on energy and the environment and the summit provides an opportunity for Vermonters concerned with regional climate change to learn more about his upcoming plan of action.

A “Climate Science Fishbowl” will follow, focusing on the effects regional and global climate change will have on Vermont’s future. Moderated by Mark Johnson, host of WDEV’s The Mark Johnson Show, the panel will feature Jon Erickson of Rubenstein School, UVM, Alan Betts of Atmospheric Research, and Gillian Galford of VT Climate Assessment, UVM.  Two sets of breakout sessions round out the rest of the day; the first focusing on “climate economic policy” followed by “ideas for action” in the afternoon.  Those interested in bioenergy might elect to attend breakout sessions such as “Advancing Community-Based Climate Action” moderated by Johanna Miller of VECAN and the VT Natural Resources Council or “Developing Ubiquitous Distributed Energy” moderated by Chuck Ross, Secretary of VT Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets. Additionally, “Spurring Research and Development for New Technologies in Vermont” moderated by Ted Brady, USDA Rural Development seems to complement the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative’s work building the new frontiers in bioenergy for the State of Vermont. To register and for a complete schedule visit: http://vtrural.org/programs/climate-economy/summit.