When the Biomass Thermal Energy Council was first organized in 2008-’09 with the help of a Washington, D.C., association management firm, wood heat was a rising star in the renewable energy universe.

A November 2009 Capitol Hill briefing for congressional staff, organized by BTEC, the Pellet Fuels Institute and the Alliance for Green Heat, attracted a large audience. BTEC’s presentation pointed out that although transportation, electricity and heating each composed about one-third of the energy usage in the United States, heating had been getting only a sliver of public funding support. BTEC’s speaker also noted that, at the time, biomass energy was displacing 10 times more fossil fuel-generated energy than wind, solar and geothermal power combined.

Shortly thereafter, a storm cloud appeared on the horizon in the form of the 2010 Manomet Center’s Biomass Sustainability and Carbon Policy Study, which challenged the view of biomass as a carbon-neutral energy source. As they continue to do so today, media reports failed to note the Manomet Study’s distinction between biomass electricity and biomass heating.

Fast-forward a dozen years to 2022. BTEC, for a number of reasons, has lost its fastball. Our organization’s very capable executive, Joseph Seymour, supplied by its association management firm Technology Transition Corporation, has gone on to a different job. Several discussions about merging BTEC and PFI have failed of enactment. COVID-19 has curtailed BTEC’s formerly successful conferences and trade shows. The pellet industry’s Washington, D.C., legislative relations are being handled by the PFI and, interestingly, a coalition financially managed by the Maine Pellet Fuels Association.

By spring 2023, BTEC Board Chair Jeremy Mortl of Messersmith Manufacturing and Board Member Les Otten of Maine Energy Systems decided change was necessary. BTEC’s board met twice and concluded that a top priority must be major improvement in the federal tax incentives for modern wood heating in commercial buildings and residences. The board then transferred association responsibilities to a firm that was also managing the Maine Pellet Fuels Association.

Once all administrative transfers had been completed, BTEC’s directors met in early 2024, thanked Mortl for his interim leadership and elected new officers, asking John Ackerly of the Alliance for Green Heat to continue as secretary. Jon Parrott, who has a doctorate in forestry, was elected board chair, with Frank Kvietok of Lignetics and Otten as vice chairs, and Tony Wood, a fifth-generation wood firm manager, as treasurer.

An important change was made in the February directors meeting: BTEC will henceforth be doing business as the BioThermal Energy Council. The change is designed to avoid the negative connotation that opponents of biomass-generated electricity have bestowed upon the word “biomass,” and also to promote collaborative working relationships with other renewable thermal energy groups, particularly thermal biogas.

So where is BTEC headed now? Importantly, to work collaboratively with the PFI toward shared goals. More broadly, to help realign the public dialogue back toward enthusiasm regarding modern wood heating. To quote BTEC Vice Chair Kvietok, “The current environment holds many opportunities for biomass-based energy, as well as threats. The reconstituted BTEC aims to take these challenges head-on through a combination of legislative advocacy and an education program built on a broad foundation of coalition building.”

Vice Chair Les Otten said, “The mission of BTEC is to educate policymakers and consumers who are concerned with the expansion of renewable energy to fight global warming.”

And BTEC Chairman Jon Parrott added, “Despite considerable tailwinds, the myopic goal of universal electrification will assuredly fall short of expectations. To meet greenhouse gas reduction benchmarks more effectively, society must use all decarbonization initiatives and embrace a mosaic of solutions.”

BTEC’s directors very recently approved the 2024 dues schedule, which is designed to attract new members and give recognition to “sustaining” members. The new BTEC website is about to go live, in sync with a membership invitational mailing. U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, is preparing legislation to improve and protect tax code incentives for modern wood heat installations.

BTEC is rising!

Author: Bill Bell
Executive Director, Biomass Thermal Energy Council
(207) 752-1392

Read the article appearing in Biomass Magazine here.