University of Idaho Professor Jay O'Laughlin just told the Legislature's energy, environment and technology interim committee that woody biomass - converting mill or forest residues into thermal and electrical energy - provided 4.7 percent of the energy consumed in Idaho in 2007, and 1.8 percent of the energy consumed in the U.S. At the U of I, he said, "We've been heating the campus with wood for 20 years." The UI's wood-fired steam plant uses 22,000 dry tons of woody biomass material a year; the result is big savings on utilities for taxpayers, O'Laughlin said: The UI is saving $1.5 million a year compared to natural gas costs. Currently, he said, Idaho's mill residues are being fully utilized; expanding use of woody biomass for energy in Idaho would require new supplies of logging slash and leftovers from additional forest thinnings. "I view wood bio-energy as a bridge to the next energy technology," he said. "Wood has always been an important part of our energy picture."