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Heating the Midwest is Coming
Article #235, June 2016
By Bill Cook

Heating and cooling buildings consumes over a third of Michigan’s total energy use.  Most of those energy dollars leave the state.  Using sustainable wood product alternatives is a clean, efficient, and local way to heat and cool many of our buildings.  Technologies are relatively simple and, in some regions, have proven to be an important economic driver. 

     The organization called “Heating the Midwest” is planning its fifth annual conference in Harris, Michigan during 11-13 October.  The conference highlights the many benefits that wood-based heating and cooling have to offer communities, schools, businesses, and homeowners. 
     Michigan and the Midwest are ripe for the deployment of these cost-effective, clean, and low-tech systems.  An increasing number of facilities are turning towards local-based heating sources that also contribute to environmental and community stability.   
     The first day is a pre-conference tour of local facilities that use wood to provide heating, cooling, and electricity.  The second two days look at the role that wood -based thermal technologies have in regional economies, market issues, and public perceptions.  Various system designs, financing, and success stories will be explored.  Experts in policy and deployment will address the current issues affecting wood-based and district energy systems. 
     A pair of collateral sessions is specifically designed for builders and heating contractors to learn about the details of installing these systems.  An expo of vendors and wood energy programs will be available throughout the conference and open to the public. 
     Wood-derived heat energy, wood chips in particular, has been used for decades by schools, businesses, and industries.  Within the past few years, a number of additional facilities have converted to wood-based heating systems, including schools, farms, hospitals, plant nurseries, and others. 
     Wood chip systems can be cost-competitive with natural gas.  Much of the Lake States region is serviceable by existing wood chip contractors.  Wood pellet systems undercut the annual heating costs of propane, fuel oil, and electricity.  The same distributors of fossil fuels can also deliver pellets.  Bulk pellet delivery is one of many potential business opportunities for entrepreneurs. 
     For larger facilities, perhaps at least 100,000 square feet, a wood chip heating system should be carefully considered.  Schools, hospitals, manufacturers, municipalities, and others would be wise to explore the possibilities of replacing older heating plants with those fueled by wood chips.  For houses and small businesses, especially off the natural gas grid, pellet boilers provide cost-saving, hands-off alternatives to fossil fuels. 
     There are nearly two million homes and business off the natural gas grid that still heat with fossil fuels.  So much could be gained if many of these converted to wood-based heating and cooling systems. 
     There are other reasons to consider wood-based heating systems other than saving money.  Wood fuel pricing is much more consistent than fossil fuels, making budget planning easier.  Wood fuels are locally sourced, contributing to local economies and keeping energy dollars close to home. 
     An expanding market for lower quality wood products allows increasingly better management of forests, improved forest health, and higher quality environmental services.  A well-managed forest landscape sequesters more atmospheric carbon than unmanaged forests.  Every wood-based heating system uses carbon that is already part of the carbon cycle, unlike the carbon generated from fossil fuel consumption. 
     For decision-makers, facility managers, and others associated with heating and cooling, or those simply interested in learning about clean energy technologies, the annual Heating the Midwest conference is an excellent opportunity to learn more about how our local natural resources can be effectively used to build a more sustainable and clean economy.  This ain’t just your grampa’s old backyard wood boiler!

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Bill Cook is an MSU Extension forester providing educational programming for the Upper Peninsula. His office is located at the MSU Forest Biomass Innovation Center near Escanaba. The Center is the headquarters for three MSU Forestry properties in the U.P., with a combined area of about 8,000 acres. He can be reached at cookwi@msu.edu or 906-786-1575.

Prepared by Bill Cook, Forester/Biologist, Michigan State University Extension, 6005 J Road, Escanaba, MI  49829
906-786-1575 (voice),  906-786-9370 (fax),  e-mail:  cookwi@msu.edu

Use / reprinting of these articles is encouraged. Please notify Bill Cook.
By-line should read "Bill Cook, MSU Extension" Please use the article trailer whenever possible.

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