A new state-funded initiative will help Windham County convert the heating systems in schools and municipal buildings from oil to locally sourced, renewable heat from high-efficiency wood heat systems. Windham Wood Heat’s near-term goal is to convert 20 schools and public buildings to wood heat, while its long-term goals are to make the county a hub of advanced-wood heating technology and strengthen the local forest economy.

The switch to local wood heat will reduce heating costs for these publicly supported buildings and keep money circulating in the county. By converting schools and public buildings to local wood fuel for heat, Windham Wood Heat expects to retain well over $500,000 each year in the local economy.

“Windham County is 90 percent forested,” said Guy Payne, executive director of the Sustainable Energy Outreach Network (SEON), based in Brattleboro. “We have the potential to become an extraordinary regional hub of modern wood heating technology, professional development, and fuel supply and delivery. Our project team will be assisting with energy efficiency and fuel switching, developing greater mechanical capacity in high-efficiency wood-based heating, and contributing to the overall transformation of this region’s economy.”

“I want to thank the Vermont Clean Energy Development Fund for investing in the Windham Wood Heat Initiative,” said Payne. “We are so excited about the positive changes this initiative will bring to Windham County.”

The $1.6 million-program, funded by a state agreement with Entergy Vermont Yankee via the Vermont Clean Energy Development Fund (CEDF), will help at least 20 municipal and school buildings convert to heating with advanced wood heating systems that use local, sustainable wood while addressing those buildings’ energy efficiency and durability needs. The program also includes public education, training for local building professionals, and fuel supply procurement.

The economic impact of choosing local wood fuel over fossil fuels is easily understood by a comparison with heating oil. In New England, 78 cents of every dollar spent on oil leaves the local economy, while 100 percent of every dollar spent on local wood fuel stays in the local economy.

The Windham Wood Heat initiative is a collaborative effort that brings together local business, non-profit and public entities, and leverages regional and national expertise to develop the systems and programs necessary to make advanced wood heat a widespread option in Windham County. The state awarded the grant to the Sustainable Energy Outreach Network (SEON), which serves as the lead agency for the project. BuildingGreen, Inc. will assist with financial management and the Northern Forest Center will manage the project.  The Windham Regional Commission will assist with public outreach and project coaching, while STIX L3C, BuildingGreen, Forward Thinking Consulting, and Innovative Natural Resource Solutions will provide technical assistance.

Public school and municipal buildings in Windham County are eligible for assistance. Windham Wood Heat expects to offer a variety of incentives and services, such as assessments of whether buildings are appropriate for advanced wood heat, as well as energy- and building-envelope analyses. Buildings selected for participation in the program will get one-on-one coaching through project development, bid review, budget, and public approval stages, plus incentives ranging from $10,000 to $75,000 toward installation of a high-efficiency pellet or wood chip heating system based on project cost and size. Loans, credit enhancements, performance contracting, and other financing mechanisms may also be available.

Towns and schools interested in assistance or more information from Windham Wood Heat about converting a building to wood fuel should contact Kim Smith at ksmith@windhamregional.org or (802) 257-4547 x108.