Dec 7, 2022·edited Dec 8, 2022Liked by Lissa Harris

Love this story and your initiative to cover topics of community resilience (or attempts at it). I’m a believer that focusing on what’s working and cloning it to the extent possible will bring change (read Switch by Chip and Dan Heath) where change is needed and it’s clear we can’t continue burning fossil fuels to heat buildings for ever…

I’m a fan of Fleischmanns and all it’s quirks. So I watched closely (from NH where I had relocated) as this project derailed and I felt sorry for Todd (also a good friend of mine)…There’s more to it as to why it didn’t work out…Fleischmanns lacks a large user on the would be system…an anchor tenant if you will. But for the reasons you describe it’s fair to say that new “big ideas” suffer here from looking at things with an “upstate of mind”. I know this become I’m an upstater too having grown up in the shadow of post industrial Binghamton (though I have lived and worked in VT and NH where advanced wood heat is mainstream). From my vantage point, Vermonters (and other rural New England forested states) have been heating large public buildings and small communities with wood chips for decades. When BERC came in to assess the opportunity, they had a very Vermonter attitude. Frugal Yankees don’t waste anything and heating with chip makes perfectly good use of a waste product of milling and forestry. But BERC were outsiders plain and simple. And Jim Waters was kind of pushy. It’s really about meeting people where they’re at and building trust. We just don’t have the same frugality that rural New Englanders have which is one reason simple ideas like this seem too complex. Meanwhile, over the last 10 years or so, there have been somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 (and counting) wood chip and wood pellet community-scale heating installations in New England and only a handful in NY. It’s not that we can’t do it here, because we can and it makes sense for the circular economy (78 cents of every dollar spent on heating with heating oil leaves the region). It’s just that when things seem too hard, its simply easier to continue business as usual and go about living their lives and minding their own business.

However, there most certainly IS a place for community-scale wood heat in the matrix of renewable heating options available to rural NY whether NYSERDA thinks so anymore or not (clearly they downplayed it considerably in the Draft CLCPA to focus on other larger CO2 emitters in other sectors). In comparison, the amount of biogenic carbon from wood heat is minuscule in comparison. So the simply didn’t waste time on it but by not stating it as part of the solution, alienated rural NYers that heat with wood.

The forester in me just can’t help to emphasize this point….Every successful renewable energy project I’ve seen as had a local champion and for this one Todd was it…But (Village politics aside) he did the right thing by stepping away to focus his energy on his own business rather than get dragged down by inertia of nay-sayers. For every renewable energy feasibility study written, only a fraction actually lead to successful implementation. A whole book could be written on why they fail but the one common denominator for all the successes out there was they had a local champion. I’m a local champion and would love to continue the conversation about why this type of heating makes sense in certain situations. Hopefully this can be a forum for constructive dialogue when so

Many rural NYers are struggling with heat this winter.

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I just saw that you edited and expanded your comment -- again, thank you so much for your deeply informed thoughts here, and the kind words on this project.

The issue of what role wood heat has in the state climate plan has gotten so garbled. A lot of people apparently believe that NYS is seeking to ban woodburning, no matter how often Basil Seggos explains to some upstate reporter that it's not happening, hahaha. That's by design I'm sure, there are any number of people who benefit from misinformation and public outrage about the plan.

I don't feel like the CAC has really thought through the public communication on this stuff. To your point though: The scoping plan relies hard in its cost-benefit analysis on the air pollution benefits of cutting down on burning fuels of any kind, which is an issue that is separate from climate pollution. Carbon dioxide and methane cause climate change, particulates and "NOX and SOX" cause human health problems. If they boost the role of woodburning, depending on their carbon accounting, they get climate benefits but the negative human health impacts could be larger -- and then their cost-benefit analysis doesn't work. Plus there's the issue of forest impacts. As a forester, you know: there are ways to do this that are locally managed and make sense, and then there's US forests getting strip-mined to ship wood pellets overseas because European carbon accounting decided that wood was zero carbon. WTF.


For a project like the Fleischmanns biomass plant, I do think there's a lot of merit to the argument that one central boiler with dry chips and well-maintained emission control tech is a hell of an improvement on everybody in the village burning wood of uncertain quality with whatever old woodstove they have. But I can see why the climate planners didn't go down the road of encouraging this sort of project -- it weakens their case for climate action having massive human health benefits.

FWIW, I have wood heat in my house as a backup for power outages going on ten years now, and I don't see getting rid of it ever. :) Then again, I don't live in Queens. Wood heat in very dense cities is a nightmare.

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I sent the CAC the research on the "wood smoke" issue and while I agree it has no place in dense urban areas where PM is already high due to other combustion, there's more dust in what comes out of your vaccum cleaner than a properly operated, modern wood burning appliance. https://www.ieabioenergy.com/blog/publications/aerosols-from-biomass-combustion/

Nussbaumer's study was confirmed during NYSERDA's Renewable Heat NY program...but since then it has been wiped off the face of NYSERDA's public pages. Meanwhile, across the US there's been investments in Community Wood Banks (think soup kitchen for households with heat insecurity in rural forested regions). See NYT link: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/19/climate/wood-banks-winter-maine.html My friends in Maine run the wood bank this article was written about.

Interesting that our systems benefit charges on our NYSEG bill funded 10s of millions in wood heat research and improvement and they just failed completely in making wood a part of the climate solution thereby alienating rural NY in the process. I totally understand that the biomass thermal was conflated when it was likened to the pellet export to the EU, but we're talking about a scale so wildy smaller that it pales in comparison. I point this out, so that you understand that small-scale community wood heat programs (whether wood chips to heat a local school, or cord wood in the home) also make alot of sense, whereas ASHP and GSP arent always the best decision in every case. NYSERDA just missed the whole point in favor of an urban, enviro-justive, anti combustion lobby that does not have any connection to the reality that is living in Upstate NY. Its a shame to watch how other states have done advanced wood heat well and how our schizophrenic NY has not.

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Thanks for this perspective.

FWIW, as a longtime upstate New Yorker, every time I go to Vermont I end up having too much of some delicious locally-brewed beer at some lively and apparently prosperous establishment in the middle of Utter Nowhere, and launching into a rant. Why can't we have nice things? We have maple syrup and cows too, damnit.

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