It's a cold winter's day in the University of Vermont's Jericho research forest, but the discussion amongst the group there is heating up over how trees are being used to heat schools across the state. More than 30 Vermont schools are relying on wood chips as their primary heating source. Wood chip heating systems saved Vermont taxpayers an estimated $760,000 in energy costs during the 2005-2006 heating season.
Emily Schadler, a student at the University of Vermont, says there also other benefits. "I think too schools are starting to feel their students are more aware of climate change and peak oil and those things are happening, so I think people are definitely thinking about it in those terms too."
UVM Professor David Brynn adds, "One of the other things is if you use wood, that's used local, that money stays circulating in the community as opposed to fossil fuels, it's gone."
Middlebury College is the latest Vermont school to break ground on a biomass energy plant. The $11 million facility is expected to be up and running by next fall. Mount Mansfield Union High School in Jericho is one of several Vermont high schools that are already heated by wood chips, saving the district thousands of dollars in heating costs each year
Using biomass, or wood chips, does present challenges. The infrastructure is expensive, which means it's currently not practical for homes or small businesses. There's also currently a lack of supply, because very few companies harvest trees solely for wood chips, but the group is confident that that may soon change, and trees in Vermont forests will be heating homes and businesses across the country.