“Brooks believes there should be five or six pellet mills like his around the state. He doesn’t want to own all of them, but at the same time, he’s not just waiting for others to fill the demand.”
Braving the headwinds of cheap oil and gas prices, two Vermont entrepreneurs — Chris Brooks and Tabitha Bowling — are betting that heating with wood pellets, in the long run, can be a viable energy option for Vermont. With wood heat, they say, Vermonters will be able to nourish their working landscape, sustain more jobs, and keep more energy dollars circulating locally.
Chris Brooks, the first person to open a pellet factory in Vermont, is an archeologist by training who moved to Vermont in 2000 from Wisconsin, where his family had been in the wood industry for five generations. “They were part of that early generation that went to Wisconsin and cut all the trees down,” he said. “And then the mill closed. That makes no sense. So past generations have taught me what not to do. You build with sustainability in mind — both economic and ecological.”
As Brooks built up his business, Vermont Wood Pellet, he eventually crossed paths, at a conference hosted by Vermont’s Working Lands Enterprise Initiative, with Tabitha Bowling, who had recently moved from Washington, D.C., to East Burke. Bowling, with a track record of business success to her credit, was looking to start a new venture, and says, “One of the objectives I had from a business perspective was to find something here locally that I could invest in that would take advantage, in a responsible way, of the natural resources and support the skills of the workforce here.” Bowling, along with Brooks and others, eventually formed Root 8 Ventures. Through their efforts, old mills are being revived, and a new arrow is being added to Vermont’s renewable energy quiver.