The Vermont Clean Energy Development Fund has allocated $1.6 million to develop a wood-pellet heating industry in Windham County. The funding group has put out a call for proposals to design and run the program.
The funds are part of a final $5.3 million clean energy payment from Entergy Vermont Yankee, which is closing at the end of the year. At least $2.6 million of that is earmarked for Windham County, the region expected to be hardest hit economically by the closure.
Entergy has funded the Clean Energy Development Fund since the fund’s inception in 2004. The program’s charge is to promote renewable energy generation. For the past decade it’s been focused on small-scale solar installations. The fund’s efforts have been so successful that its director, Andrew Perchlik, says the group is ready to move on to another renewable energy technology.
"We’re looking at wood heat as a focus statewide as we stop our incentives for solar," Perchlik says, "because the market for solar doesn’t need the same kind of state support from the clean energy development fund.”
The fund is requesting proposals for a modern wood-heating program that will install efficient wood pellet or chip systems in schools and public buildings. Perchlik says a locally sourced, low emission wood heat program would benefit the environment and the region’s economy.
About 30 Vermont schools have installed wood pellet systems, with financial help from the state education agency. That funding has dried up. But Perchlik says many more schools would like to switch to wood heat.
“They talk to facilities managers at other schools," Perchlik says. "And [they say,] ‘Oh yeah, we switched to chips or pellets and now we’re saving a lot of money and we feel like we’re supporting the local forest economy by buying the chips from local businesses.'”
Perchlik’s team held a public meeting in Brattleboro last May. More than 50 people attended and many brought proposals. A common theme was that the money from Entergy should fund projects that will become self-sustaining and spawn new businesses.
“That’s why it was important to focus on a technology and a market," Perchlik says. "To see if we could put a lot of money into one area to really make a lasting difference, where you could actually help develop the market so it keeps going without the money once the money is gone."
The Clean Energy Development Fund has also asked for proposals from lending institutions for financing small-scale solar installations, now that rebates for those projects are ending. Perchlik says $300,000 from the Entergy funds will support a local lending program. Another $300,000 will help develop one or more anaerobic digesters that can convert food wastes and manure into electricity.
Perchlik says the $400,000 that hasn’t been allocated might be awarded as a block grant that a local group could dispense as it sees fit. Requests for proposals for the wood-heating program are due December 23.