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Many rural communities are interested in using locally-produced renewable energy sources to increase energy independence, lower costs, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This paper describes case studies of two communities in Minnesota’s Arrowhead region interested in using timber harvest residues, sub-merchantable timber, and waste wood to heat homes, businesses, and government buildings, in either stand-alone or district energy systems. Unlike imported energy, locally-sourced energy results in a significant proportion of the positive and negative impacts of energy consumption occurring locally. Having credible, objective information on the scale of these impacts and the tradeoffs they represent is crucial to communities considering new energy sources, particularly those that may require public investments. In the past decade, a great deal of attention has been given to large, industrial-scale bioenergy systems, and the positive and negative impacts they could have. Regarding the small cities and villages of the Arrowhead region and their more modest energy needs, questions arose as to whether an energy future built around woody biomass would be economically beneficial and environmentally sustainable at that scale. This collaborative study between two Minnesota communities – Ely and Grand Marais – and a team of experts investigates the options, tradeoffs, and social support for such a strategy.

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