Assessment of Wisconsin Public School Districts’ (K-12) Potential Knowledge Gaps and Challenges to Using Woody Biomass Energy
Slembarski, Bethany J.
College of Natural Resources, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point
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With increased interest in reducing fossil carbon emissions, individuals and industries look to renewable energy options such as solar, wind and hydro as solutions. Another renewable energy option that shows great potential in Wisconsin is woody biomass energy (WBE). Wisconsin is comprised of 17 million acres of forest land, producing an abundance of unmerchantable forest residue (i.e. harvest and thinning debris, invasive species, and insect infested or diseased trees). Accumulation of this residue is harmful to the health of forest ecosystems and increases risk of wildfires. One potential use of this woody biomass is heating Wisconsin public school district’s buildings. A handful of Wisconsin public school districts currently use wood energy, but it was estimated that 200-300 public schools could benefit in using wood energy ( P-Squared Group, 2008). This shows that successful implementation of a wood energy system is possible but also raises the question as to why there are not more Wisconsin public school districts using wood energy. Perhaps it is a lack of knowledge, or maybe other currently unidentified barriers and challenges. With this in mind, it is possible that outreach to school districts regarding this locally available heating fuel source could help districts appropriately adopt the use of WBE in directly filling potential knowledge gaps and resources to overcome identified barriers and challenges. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to assess school districts’ familiarity with WBE, identify districts’ barriers and challenges to using WBE, and explore preferred options for outreach about WBE. To address the study’s objectives, online surveys and focus groups were employed to all Wisconsin public school districts’ superintendents and directors of building and operations. Overall, school districts had a low familiarity of WBE. Major barriers and challenges identified included cost, personnel, time, competing cheaper fuel sources, and insufficient building infrastructure. Most school districts reported turning to Focus on Energy, a statewide energy program, to acquire information regarding energy and preferred to receive information in the form of internet resources or reports. Based on the study’s results, to effectively provide school districts with accurate and timely information, it is suggested that outreach material, such as reports and resource information, addressing challenges to using WBE be disseminated through Focus on Energy’s website. Future research examining the effectiveness of this outreach approach is recommended as well as assessing the effects of interest on WBE knowledge.
Land use planning
Wisconsin School Districts
Woody Biomass Energy