Featured Energy & Bioproducts Impacts

STORY: Biomass Furnaces Keep Greenhouse Veggies Growing

Vermont greenhouse vegetable growers use clean burning biomass furnaces, avoiding 2.14 million pounds of carbon.

The use of heated greenhouses is on the rise in Vermont as growers respond to increased demand for local food throughout the year. However, using nonrenewable fossil fuels to meet this demand is expensive and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.

Vermont greenhouse growers produce $24.5 million in crops using 2.6 million square feet of growing area at an estimated annual heating cost of $1.8 million. Many growers are interested in fossil fuel alternatives to improve their profitability and reduce their environmental impact.

Over seven years, Vermont Extension helped 25 greenhouse growers receive cost-share funds for biomass heating systems. The total cost of installing the systems was $312,766; the average cost per system was $12,511; and the average cost-share (sponsor funding) was 44% of the total cost.

During those seven years, the heating systems operated for the equivalent of 96 growing seasons at an average of 3.8 growing seasons per system. Growers saw an average net fuel savings of $2,696 per system per year, and an average payback of 4.8 years. A total of 15.3 trillion BTU of biomass energy was provided to the greenhouses, equivalent to 167,000 gallons of propane. It is estimated that 2.14 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions were avoided by use of biomass heating. That’s roughly equal to annual emissions from 204 cars, or 2.3 million miles of car travel.

With fuel savings and reduced pollution, clean burning biomass heating for greenhouse vegetable production is an alternative energy worth consideration.