Upstate New York is leading the way in the biomass industry, and local businesses are tapping in.
Old Forge Properties — including Enchanted Forest/Water Safari and Water’s Edge Inn and Conference Center — recently announced a biomass heating project and anticipates receiving a grant to cover 75 percent of the $2.2 million endeavor, president and chief executive officer Tim Noonan said. And earlier this month Griffiss Utility Services Corp. broke ground on an $18 million biofuel project to supply heat and electricity for tenants of Rome’s Griffiss Business and Technology Park.
“We’ve seen a lot of increasing activity within the last three to five years,” said Tom Richard, director of the Biomass Energy Center at Penn State University. “Part of that has been the increase in cost of coal and oil and wider recognition of doing something serious about carbon footprint.”
Biomass energy involves combusting organic waste — such as woody plants and stocks and stems of grasses — to produce heat and electricity with a minimal carbon footprint.
The biomass usually comes in the form of woodchips or pellets.
Noonan projects the Old Forge project could offset 480 tons of fossilized carbon emissions annually, while also saving about $100,000 each year in energy costs.
He also said it would offset 95 percent of the businesses’ current fuel usage.
“Because we use fuel both in the summer and winter, it makes sense,” Noonan said, adding a grant is necessary in order for there to be a savings.
Enchanted Forest/Water Safari currently uses oil to heat water for the park in the summer, and a combination of oil and propane to heat the Water’s Edge Inn and other buildings in the winter, according to the project summary.
Businesses are not the only ones who benefit from the switch — the local economy does, too.
Dennis Rak, president of Double A Vineyards and Double A Willow in Fredonia, said business becomes cost prohibitive if they ship wood chips farther than 75 miles.
“The money from biomass stays in the local economy,” he said.
Eric Carlson, president and chief executive officer of the Empire State Forest Products Association, said over the last few years several wood pellet manufacturers have popped up, marking the state as a leader in the new industry.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced it would invest $4.3 million in ReEnergy and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry to encourage growth of shrub willow as a renewable energy fuel. This is anticipated to support willow on farmland across Central New York and the North Country, including farms in Oneida and Otsego counties.
Dan Maneen, Griffiss Utility Services Corp president and chief executive officer, said he anticipates purchasing from small suppliers throughout areas such as Camden and Lyons Falls.
Page 2 of 2 - Farms specifically geared to biomass are basically “orphaned farmlands,” Carlson said.
Biomass energy utilizes species that aren’t very productive for other uses.
“Crooked trees, diseased or dying trees can be chipped and used,” he said.
While the start-up costs can be a challenge for many, the location of natural gas pipelines also plays a part. For those who are not connected to gas pipelines, or simply can not be, such as those deeper in the Adirondacks, biomass is a logical choice, Carlson said.
“In rural New York, where there isn’t natural gas, thermal biomass is clearly an alternative for those people,” he said. “You have to have a distribution system for heating with natural gas.”
Maneen said the project will provide them with other energy options.
Therefore, he said, the savings depends on the price of natural gas.
“Biomass is going to be a first source because it’s economical,” he said. “What happens if natural gas goes substantially lower than it is now? Then we have the option to use that as well.”