Introducing the Local Impact of Woody Biomass Energy Projects: Quick Assessment Tool for Planners and Community Leaders

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ThLocaImpact of Woody Biomass Energy Projects: Quick Assessment Tool for Planners and Community Leaders (the Quick Assessment Tool), developed by the New York Biomass Energy Alliance, and the New York Farm Viability Institute, with funding from the U.S. Forest Service Wood Education and Resource Center, is a user friendly software  tool to help planners, development officials, municipal leaders and other community leaders evaluate woody biomass-based energy projects and engage other community members concerning the real impacts that increased use of woody biomass would have both in the three most common areas of concern — the condition of local forests (forest health), air quality, and highway traffic — as well as potential benefits in terms of local economic activities, tax revenues and employment.

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Local planners, community leaders and development officials in need of ways to clarify potential project impacts early in the project development phase, can use the Quick Assessment Tool so that issues such as stewardship of forests in the the region, job creation, and maintaining local air quality, are addressed in an informed manner.  The Quick Assessment Tool is designed not only to prepare local officials to engage with project developers and interested members of the public in grounded discussions of the realistic impacts of woody biomass projects on their communities, but is also intended to help local leaders achieve a degree of independent perspective without demanding months of discussion and outside analysis to help them get to that point by producing credible, reasonably accurate estimates of local effects that do not require extensive prior knowledge of technical matters; estimates will include the impact that increased use of woody biomass would have on the condition of local forests, air quality, highway traffic, and local employment, income, and tax revenues.

The Quick Assessment Tool is available at no cost as a downloadable package for the use of communities in any region of the country. Using an Excel workbook format, the Quick Assessment Tool captures basic data on the current state of affairs in a user selected location, including existing harvesting of forests, air quality, traffic, and economic conditions. The Quick Assessment Tool then forecasts the impact of implementing a proposed biomass-based energy project on that baseline data. The Quick Assessment Tool is available in a Lite version and a Full version. The Lite version uses the Full version calculations in the background and is designed so users can depend on default values to conduct basic evaluations of the impacts of biomass projects on the base line conditions in their communities. In the Full version, assumptions, as well as default values can be readily modified to test impacts, display them in both tabular and graphic formats, and compare multiple complex models.

Users should first run the Lite version of the Quick Assessment Tool. If there are specific questions or scenarios that cannot be sufficiently addressed within the Lite version, users should then move to the Full Version of the Quick Assessment Tool. It is good to take a look at the Lite Version to get an idea of how the Tool works before proceeding to the more time consuming and complex Full version.

Both versions of the Quick Assessment Tool can be used with Windows 2003 or newer systems and saved on the users’ computers in Excel file format for future use. It is also possible to save multiple completed assessments to easily compare different scenarios (instructions available on page 28 of the User Manual and the Biomass Project Compiler can be downloaded here). The User Manual is specifically for the Full version of the Quick Assessment Tool and will discuss in detail how to enter the necessary information and how a user can adjust the parameters of an assessment to fit his or her project evaluation needs.  Information, instructions and a demonstration video on the Lite version are available on the Lite version web page, and within the green boxes within the Lite version QAT.

Submit questions and concerns through the FAQ web page, which is under development.

Happy Assessing!