August 2015 Newsletter

Recent Changes
We hope you’re all having a great summer. As you’ll see here our HTM group is in progress to coordinate next year’s conference, as well as continuing movement on our action teams. We all know the diminished LP pricing has lessened the sense of urgency toward biomass in some cases, but it shouldn’t lessen our resolve to the benefits that biomass heating solutions provide! Environment, Economic and Energy continue to be our areas of education and opportunity! We look forward to having continued engagement of those that have helped in the past and welcome involvement from those that would raise your hand to help us in an area that interests you. Enjoy the balance of summer as those heating days will be upon us soon!

HTM 5th Conference and Expo (Spring 2016)  – Opportunity to Lead
Are you ready to share your leadership and involvement in biomass thermal?  The 5th Annual Heating the Midwest Conference & Expo will be held in the spring of 2016 – and planning begins now! We need your vision and energy to make next year’s event the best yet! We need a conference chair and a planning committee (location, program, tour, sponsors, outreach). For more information and to discuss how you can get involved, please contact Brian Brashaw, 218-626-4344 or

Minnesota Renewable Energy Roundtable Collaborates to Host Biomass Event in Rochester By Dan Skogen, AURI 
Typically, the Minnesota Renewable Energy Roundtable (MNRER) events try to take a broad vision of the latest developments in renewable energy and how they might interact with energy users, businesses and renewable energy producers. In comparison, the meeting on July 17th at the Heintz Center in Rochester was laser focused. With the Rochester community in the early stages of their Destination Medical Center (DMC) 25-year strategy, the MNRER came together to discuss their vision and meet a need for more information on the potential feasibility and use of biomass in the DMC project. For nearly 50 attendees, the day was dedicated to education, feasibility, real-life projects and scientific findings. The event was made possible by a collaborative planning effort of the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute, University of Minnesota Extension, Heating the Midwest with Renewable Biomass and the Biomass Thermal Energy Council.
Senator Dave Senjem, a key player in the Rochester DMC project, opened the day welcoming the group to Rochester. He paved the way for opening remarks from the Rochester Energy Commission Chair Edward Cohen and DMC Executive Director Lisa Clarke, who both presented on the Rochester DMC project, its vision, its mission and progress made to date. Amanda Bilek, Government Affairs Manager at the Great Plains Institute, then gave a presentation on biomass opportunities, reporting on recently passed legislation that will open the door for the advancement of biomass production with tax incentives and producer payments, and the role the Minnesota Department of Commerce is playing in supporting biomass projects. Following Ms. Bilek was an overview of biomass availability in various parts of the state provided by Mark Lindquist, the Biofuels Program Manager at Minnesota DNR. Dr. Joel Tallaksen, Scientist on Renewable Energy at the University of Minnesota Morris presented some results from a study on agricultural biomass and farmer’s readiness to participate in biomass collection projects. Next were presentations on the economics of using biomass–fossil fuels in comparison to biomass and combined heat and power presented respectively by Doug Tiffany, Extension Educator-Agriculture Business Management at the University of Minnesota; and David Ripplinger, Assistant Professor/Extension and Bioenergy Economist at North Dakota State University. These presentations combined set the stage for sharing real-life case studies of combined heat and power systems utilizing biomass starting with Alan Eber, the Manager of Engineering and Energy Management with Gundersen Health System of LaCrosse, Wisconsin. He shared a great story of how Gundersen Health System made a conscious decision to engage their staff and the communities they serve to use biomass effectively in their facility’s heating and cooling plants. He captured the participants’ attention with his real life account of the highs and lows of their project journey followed by a robust discussion with attendees.

The real life stories continued with Ken Smith, President and CEO at District Energy St. Paul, talking about the long running biomass facility the City of St. Paul has run while offering varied options used by other cities and communities. Up until now, most of the biomass conversation revolved around woody biomass or biomass from corn stover and other agriculture products. Following lunch, Dan Svedarsky, the Director of the Center for Sustainability at University of Minnesota Crookston, intrigued the group with an update on research in Northwestern Minnesota on the potential of cattail harvest for biomass and wetlands management. The day concluded with Steve Taff of the Biomass Thermal Energy Council and Marcus Grubbs of the University of Minnesota demonstrating an assessment tool (the Wood Energy Financial App– )and other resources available that can be used to pre-screen sites for biomass thermal consideration, the hands-on-training they can provide, as well as the services of the Minnesota Statewide Wood Energy Team (SWET).

It was a day that took participants from a better understanding of the Rochester DMC project, to biomass opportunities and availability, through the economics, the case studies and finally what tools are in the tool box to help determine the potential reality of biomass renewable energy.

Senator Senjem hailed the day as, “an outstanding conference”, adding that he only wished, “the information would have been seen by more of the leaders from the Rochester area.” Although this MNRER was narrow in scope, it shed light on renewable energy biomass possibilities for a community tasked with big decisions ahead, provided some great networking and generated a full discussion that will continue for the community of Rochester and others until we all meet again at the next Minnesota Renewable Energy Round Table.

If you missed this event, a copy of the agenda and the presentations are available at AURI’s website:

Five Energy Projects Selected for NextGen Funding
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) has selected five renewable energy projects to receive NextGen Energy grants. The grants are part of the Agricultural Growth, Research and Innovation (AGRI) program to help fund creative and emerging agricultural projects. These grant awards were specifically targeted at projects using woody biomass to replace propane as a heat source in regions of the state without access to natural gas.

The purpose of the NextGen Grant Program is to expand and strengthen Minnesota’s commitment to the development of locally-owned and fueled renewable energy projects. Minnesota also aims to be a leading state in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“These projects cover various sectors of the state as well as different technologies for biomass heating. We continue to use our AGRI money wisely by investing in promising projects, which in this case may help develop markets for the use of wood as fuel in an environmentally responsible way,” said MDA Commissioner Dave Frederickson.

Projects funded in this grant cycle:

  • Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Cloquet, Minnesota – $150,000
  • Viking Company, Albany, Minnesota – $149,535
  • Whitewater Gardens Farm, Altura, Minnesota – $34,622
  • Minnesota State University-Mankato, Mankato, Minnesota – $138,000
  • Grand Marais Public Utilities Commission, Grand Marais, Minnesota – $50,000

Continue reading >>

4th Annual HTM 2015 Conference Success.  Thank You, Minneapolis!
Thank you to the nearly 200 attendees of last month’s Heating the Midwest (HTM) Conference.  Unlike the previous three conferences, the 2015 event was collocated with the International Biomass Conference & Expo in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The one day conference kicked-off on Monday, April 20th, with a discussion on overcoming obstacles to speed up the deployment of biomass thermal solutions.  Tony “T.J.” Morice, the newly appointed Co-Chair of HTM and Vice President of marketing, operations and business development of the Marth Companies, opened the conference by congratulating Brian Brashaw, former Director of the Wood Materials and Manufacturing Program, on his tenure as HTM Chairman.  Four presentation sessions followed, addressing topics like policy, project development case studies, combined heat and power, and financing.  The conference concluded Monday evening with a reception on the floor of the International Biomass Conference.

As reported by Katie Fletcher of Biomass Magazine, HTM began in 2011 by focusing on thermal energy and opportunities within the Midwest, especially locations without access to the natural gas grid. “We want to increase growth in biomass heating in the Midwest, but there are obstacles to overcome,” Morice said during his keynote. “Biomass heating projects need to be on the radar and the rural economic development focus needs to be understood.”

Conference presentations will be posted at soon.  Thanks again to the event sponsors and supporters for a new take on our annual event!

More Information

Special thanks to Katie Fletcher of BBI International for contributing content to this story.