Forests are nature’s powerhouse

Happy International Day of Forests! Annually, March 21 is a day dedicated to celebrating and raising awareness of our forests.  This year’s International Day of Forests theme is “forests and energy.”

In a video clip titled “The forest: nature’s powerhouse,” organizers of the 2017 celebration note, “Trees store the sun’s energy by turning it into wood which has always been the world’s most used source of renewable energy.  New scientific advances using wood waste are opening it up to even more uses like liquid biofuels, making it a fuel of the future.”

Wisconsin has 17.1 million acres of forestland and there are currently more than fifty public and private facilities in the state that use some form of woody biomass for their energy needs.

“Wood is the oldest, and most common, source of energy,” according to Sabina Dhungana, a forest products specialist with the Wisconsin DNR. “If evaluated carefully, using local, sustainably harvested wood can be better for the environment and local economy than using fossil fuels in many cases.”

Dhungana suggests considering the following factors when deciding whether or not bioenergy would be beneficial in a project or building:

Cost of fuels: Wood is less expensive per unit of energy than oil, propane or electric heat, but if your facility is fueled by natural gas or coal, wood may not be as cost competitive.

Initial project cost: The initial cost of engineering, construction and equipment is higher for biomass energy systems. Wood systems are often designed at or below peak heating load with a redundant backup oil or gas system for use during the shoulder heating season. Therefore, one needs to be prepared with higher initial project cost if planning to install woody biomass energy system.

Annual system operation cost: There may also be increases in annual operating costs for labor, maintenance and fuel handling. Specifically, installations with on-site maintenance capabilities that have year-round demand for steam or heat are excellent candidates for woody biomass energy i.e. hospitals, nursing homes, district community energy systems (combining two three facilities together with one central energy system.

Proximity to fuel source: Biomass is most economical as a fuel source when the Combined Heat and Power (CHP) system is located at or close to the woody biomass fuel stock. In some cases, the availability of biomass in a location may prompt the search for an appropriate thermal host for a CHP or heat application. In other circumstances, a site may be driven by a need for energy savings to search for biomass fuel within a reasonable radius of the facility.

Best practice design and operation: Matching the conversion technology to the fuel source and to the products needed (i.e., electricity, steam, hot water, and mechanical energy) is essential to achieve the maximum economic returns and long-term performance from a bioenergy system.

Local policies that support bioenergy: These include utility and environmental policies such as standardized interconnection and State renewable portfolio standards. As of November 2006, 23 states and the District of Columbia had renewable portfolio standards, and in each of these states, woody biomass-fueled CHP represents a permissible renewable energy resource. In some states, renewable energy credits (RECs) can be generated from the use of biomass fuels to power a CHP system, which can provide projects with an additional revenue stream. These policies can help offset some of the initial project investment costs for woody biomass projects.

Grants, loans, or tax credits: Bioenergy projects often qualify for additional state incentives that traditional energy sources are ineligible for. Financing may be available for bioenergy projects through federal, state and local grants, and loans or tax credits. Here is some information on available wood energy grants in Wisconsin.

Additional information about wood energy projects is available on the Wisconsin Statewide Wood Energy Program’s website.

“Wood residues generated from the forest management activities and mill processes in Wisconsin show great opportunities in making our state energy independent and helping improve our economy,” Dhungana concluded.

For more information, contact Sabina Dhungana via email ( or phone (608-261-0754).

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