Thursday, April 8, 2010

Organic farmers and outdoor wood boilers: A Saga of Strange Bedfellows

Your browser may not support display of this image. Mother Earth News, the scrappy back to the land, grow-your own magazine has always attracted lefty folks who grow their own organic vegetables, build their own cabin or yurt and live off the grid. This is why so many of us love the magazine. But in recent years, Mother Earth News has become one of the favorite magazines for outdoor wood boilers manufacturers to hawk their wares. What gives?

In each issue of Mother Earth News you can find at least two full-page ads and a half dozen smaller ones. Curiously, almost all the advertisers are from exempt wood appliances, meaning they are the appliances that are not regulated by the EPA such as boilers and cook stoves and tend to be much more polluting. But by far, the main advertisers are the outdoor wood boiler companies. Central Boiler and Heatmor have full-page ads in every issue. Another regular advertiser claims the stove “burns over 15 different approved biomass fuels” including pallets and construction waste. Why do the most polluting wood appliance manufacturers advertise here and not the cleaner EPA certified producers? (The one exception is Woodstock Soapstone stoves that regularly advertise and are EPA certified.)

We’ve written to the editors of Mother Earth News several times arguing that taking such ads goes against their mission to promote "eco-friendly products, renewable energy, natural health and green building." The editors have been quite responsive and concerned but point to their advertising policy which clearly says that they do not “recommend, approve or endorse” advertised products, nor do they “evaluate the advertises claims in any way.” Still, even though most magazines and newspapers have similar policies, they have lines beyond which even they won’t cross and maintain full discretion to turn down advertisers that they feel cross their lines.

Some outdoor wood boilers manufacturers are starting to clean up their act by making EPA Phase 2 qualified units that are much, much cleaner. And some, if not most of the non Phase 2 pellet boilers, are quite clean burning. And, many people with traditional outdoor wood boilers are very conscientious about only burning dry wood and have not installed the boiler near any other homes. The problem is twofold: first the technology is designed to burn at low temperatures that create emissions; second, far too many owners burn household trash in them. (Someone should do a fair and honest study about how many people burn household trash or treated or painted wood in their outdoor boilers.)

Mother Earth News is one of the few more mainstream magazines that regularly covers wood heat issues, and its coverage is generally excellent. Not only do they have John Gulland, a noted expert on wood heat as a Contributing Editor, they have sought out other experts like Greg Pahl to write their longer articles on wood heat. We also understand that magazines such as Mother Earth News are often struggling and need every advertising dollar they can get. We hope that Mother Earth News keeps up the excellent and regular coverage of stoves, boilers, masonry stoves, etc. We also call on them to better educate their readers about the nature of outdoor wood boilers by addressing the topic in every wood heat article that they run. And the community of people who want to grow their own organic food and tread lightly on the earth needs to do their homework if the numerous advertisements by outdoor wood boiler companies peaks their interest.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

European Union promotes combined heat and power (CHP)

The European Union expects to save 250 million tons of CO2 by 2020 in Europe through the use of combined heat and power? Combined heat and power (CHP) is when power plants capture and use the heat associated with making electricity, instead of wasting it, as virtually all large-scale US power plants do. When US power plants use biomass, they only get about 20 - 30% efficiency, and waste the majority of the tree's energy. CHP commonly gets up to 90% efficiency.

In 2004 the EU launched a Directive that required its Member states to keep track of their developments with respect to CHP and to analyze their national potential. In September 2007 they began evaluations of the progress towards utilizing CHP. Since then, every four years the Members of the EU perform CHP evaluations.

As of March 2009, this Directive has led to significant regulatory developments in Belgium (green certificates and CHP quotas), Spain (a decree on the sale of CHP electricity) or Germany (a law on CHP). The German law contains, amongst other things, a goal of 25% CHP power in 2020, a bonus on all electricity generated by CHP and lifts any size limits on the construction of new CHP plants.

In 2006, the US Department of Energy set a goal of having 20% of its total electricity consumption generated through CHP by 2030. Currently, the US produces about 8% of all domestic electricity from CHP. In Europe, The Netherlands produced almost 30% of all electricity through CHP, Finland produced 35% and Denmark tops the list with a staggering 52%.

Among the European countries that use the most biomass to produce CHP are Sweden at 75%, Finland at 46%, Austria at 32% and France at 23%.

For more information:

Monday, April 5, 2010

Home Star Makes Progress

The Home Star program passed out of the House Energy and Environment Subcommittee last Wednesday, and now moves to a full vote in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. On the Senate side, Homes Star was officially introduced, marking another important step in the regulatory process (S.3177). In the Senate, the Bill was sponsored by Democrat Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), but has already gained bipartisan support, with South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham and Virginia Democrat Mark Warner signing on as cosponsors of the legislation.

The proposed biomass appliance provisions, which are still in draft form and not approved, have seen a number of changes by experts who Congress relies on, and many attempted changes. One of the biggest changes that is likely to be included is a smaller, $500 rebate for smaller wood and pellet stoves that do not have to meet 75% of a home’s heating needs. The full $1,000 rebate is still available for stoves that can meet 75% of a home’s heating needs. For both the smaller and larger rebate level, stoves must be certified by a third party to be at least 75% efficient.

Another major, positive potential change is that for woodstoves, the existing stove must be recycled and made inoperable. This will take old, uncertified wood stoves out of commission and prevent them from going on the second hand market.

Emission standards have also been proposed for pellet stoves, at no more than 2.5 grams per hour to be eligible for the rebate. Wood stoves must emit not more than 4.5 grams per hour. Outdoor boilers and furnaces may not emit more than 0.32 lbs/mmBTU which means they must be EPA Phase 2 qualified.

Many questions remain about the implementation of the program. How many consumers will take advantage of the rebates for biomass appliances? How many may not even learn about the program? Will the program mainly benefit the smaller specialty retailers or the big box stores? Big box stores will have no problem providing the $1,000 rebate at the cash register and this could be a burden for smaller retailers. HPBA is uniquely positioned to help the specialty hearth retailers prepare for this program. The Alliance for Green Heat will also be putting out regular updates to help consumers, retailers and manufacturers navigate this new program.

The rationale behind Home Star is that it will create incentives for American homeowners to quickly cut their monthly energy bills by 20 percent or more by improving the energy efficiency of their homes. It would establish a $6 billion rebate program over the next one to two years to encourage immediate investment in cost-effective energy efficient products and services as well as whole-home energy efficiency retrofits. The program would be facilitated and coordinated through existing state programs using federal standards and incentives as a common platform to keep program costs as low as possible. It could create thousands of construction jobs.

A follow on program, which also includes larger biomass systems, is Building Star, which also carries a $6 billion price tag. This does not have nearly the momentum that Home Star does and its even more unclear if or when it would become law. Below is a table of House and Senate bills compiled by the Center for American Progress that would push the country towards a more low-carbon economy.

House and Senate low-carbon economy proposals
Program Bill # Estimated cost
Clean Energy Deployment Administration S. 1462 $10 billion
HOME STAR Program S. 3177 $6 billion
Building STAR Program S. 3079 $6 billion
Investments for Manufacturing
Progress and Clean Technology Act
S. 1617 $30 billion
State and local energy efficiency programs (2012-20) H.R. 2454 $65 billion
Cash for Coal Clunkers n/a n/a
NAT GAS Act S. 1408 unspecified
Siting of Interstate Transmission Lines S. 1462 unspecified


$114 billion

Wood stove makers win prestigious international award

2009-10 Sasakawa Prize winners bring light and heat to communities in Latin America, Africa and India

Bali (Indonesia), 23 February 2010 - Two projects bringing green stoves and clean lighting to remote communities in Latin America, East Africa and India are the laureates of the 2009-10 UNEP Sasakawa Prize, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) announced today.

This year's winners are Nuru Design, a company bringing rechargeable lights to villages in Rwanda, Kenya and India; and Trees, Water and People (TWP), an organization that collaborates with local NGOs to distribute fuel-efficient cook stoves to communities in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Haiti.

The UNEP Sasakawa Prize, worth $200,000, is given out each year to sustainable and replicable grassroots projects around the planet. The winners will receive their prestigious Prize at an Award Ceremony in Bali attended by dozens of Environment Ministers during the 11th Special Session of the UNEP Governing Council.

In a year that saw global leaders meet in Copenhagen for the crucial climate conference, the 2009 theme for the Prize is 'Green Solutions to Combat Climate Change'. The winners, who were selected by a panel of four people including Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and UN Messenger of Peace Wangari Maathai, will receive $100,000 each in order to expand and develop their grassroots projects.

Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director and UN Under-Secretary-General who chaired the Jury Panel, said: "Combating climate change is not just up to governments: it starts at the grassroots level, as communities tap into the power of renewables and sustainable technologies. Through pioneering green ovens and sustainable lighting, Nuru Design and Trees, Water and People are changing the lives of thousands of schoolchildren, housewives and villagers across Latin America, Africa and India. This is the Green Economy of tomorrow, in action today."

The two projects are both helping to improve daily lives in far-flung, non-electrified villages while helping to fight climate change.

Nuru Design has already converted thousands of households to rechargeable lights, and aims to prevent the emission of around 40,000 tonnes of CO2 from kerosene lighting in 2010.

And through fuel-efficient cooking stoves that burn 50 to 70 per cent less wood, TWP is helping households save money and preventing nearly 250,000 tonnes of hazardous emissions.

The Winners

Trees, Water and People

Nearly half the world's 6.8 billion people rely on smoky open fires to cook their daily meals. Trees, Water & People (TWP) , a non-profit organization, collaborates with local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Haiti to distribute fuel-efficient cook stoves that burn 50 to 70 per cent less wood and remove toxic smoke from homes. Other projects include community tree nurseries, reforestation, protecting watersheds and the promotion of renewable energy.

To date, TWP has coordinated the building of 35,000 stoves throughout Central America and Haiti, benefitting more than 175,000 people. The ecostoves burn 70 per cent less wood than traditional ovens, saving families $1 to $5 per day.

They also decrease harmful carbon emissions by 1 tonne of CO2 equivalent per year per stove for domestic users and 3.5 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year for commercial users, like tortilla makers.

To supplement the fuel-efficient stoves project, TWP has helped villages create 16 community-run tree nurseries that sequester carbon and counter the effects of deforestation. To date, three million trees have been planted throughout Latin America.

TWP will use the Prize money to support and expand the fuel-efficient stove projects and community tree nurseries throughout Central America and the Caribbean, purchasing equipment and materials necessary for increased stove production, as well as vehicles for transportation and delivery.

In 1998, Stuart Conway co-founded Trees, Water & People (TWP), a Colorado-based nonprofit committed to improving people's lives by helping communities protect, conserve and manage the natural resources.

After graduating from Colorado State University with a Bachelor's degree in Forest Management, Stuart Conway served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala for three years, where he introduced reforestation, agroforestry, soil conservation, and stove building techniques into nearby villages. Upon returning to the States, Stuart received his Master's degree in International Development and Agroforestry from Cornell University. He then served as Director for the New Forests Project at the International Center in Washington D.C., where he guided the program to plant over 2 million trees annually, establish agroforestry training centers in Guatemala and El Salvador, and initiated community reforestation projects throughout Central America.

In 2005, Prince Charles presented Stuart with the prestigious Ashden Award for Sustainable Energy, for TWP's fuel-efficient stove project in Honduras. Stuart and TWP were awarded the 2008 US$1 million Rio Tinto Prize for Sustainability.

Vermont Wood Pellet stays afloat in tough times

By: Jim Sabataso Times Argus

Chris Brooks opened the Vermont Wood Pellet Company in North Clarendon a little over a year ago with the goal of providing a product that is harvested responsibly from local timber, and sold to customers in the Rutland area. Hailing from Minnesota, where his family had worked in the timber industry for five generations, Brooks used his background in marketing and business development to start the company with local business partner, Katie Adams. Operating three shifts a day, five days a week, the Vermont Wood Pellet Company is the state's first and only wood pellet production facility.

Where do you see your business going in the next year?

In our second year, we'll be expanding as we see marginal increase in sales.

What are the major trends and/or obstacles your industry is dealing with?

While wood pellets are always less expensive than oil, pellets become more attractive as the price of oil increases.

One obstacle is outside competition - foreign and domestic wood pellet producers shipping their product into our market.

Do you foresee any hiring this year in your business and industry sector?

We're pretty much at capacity for production. But we will do a little bit of hiring, mostly based on attrition.

Why did you choose Vermont for your business?

It made sense. We also looked at Georgia, but chose Vermont because of its local flavor. We receive our wood from a 30-mile radius, and sell in a 50-miles radius.

How have you been able to capitalize on recent consumer preferences for local/organic/environmentally friendly products?

Our production offsets 1.2 million gallons of fuel oil. The wood we harvest is local and sustainable. We're operating on a local scale. The support has been amazing. People want to buy from Vermont. Vermont wants local.

The Politics of Wood Heating

by John Gulland (Excerpts of a longer article)

March 22, 2010 - Those of a certain age may recall that thirty years ago firewood was considered a renewable energy resource. Governments assigned responsibility to departments of energy, and the message to the public was ‘burn wood, but do it safely’. This was in the wake of an energy crisis and governments were desperate to wean us off costly heating oil.

Fifteen years later in the mid-1990s, responsibility had shifted to environment departments who said ‘burn less wood because it is a source of pollution’. Environment departments promoted upgrades from old smoky stoves to low-emission models, but refrained from encouraging anyone to choose wood as a home heating fuel. Energy departments had gone virtually silent on the matter of wood heating, and besides, they had no staff expertise to back up anything they might say.

The dust-up over wood smoke pits environment and health agencies of government, as well as a host of non-governmental groups, against the individuals who burn wood. Needless to say, people who heat with wood don’t belong to a powerful user’s group that sends lobbyists to the capital cities the way that, for example, hunters and gun owners do.

Until recently almost all interaction with government agencies on the subject of wood burning involved the industry trade group, the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, whose mandate is to protect the commercial interests of its members. But now a new non-governmental organization has entered the field, bringing a refreshingly non-commercial and political tone to the conversation. Founded in 2009 near Washington D.C. and headed by John Ackerly, a serious fellow with decades of experience in NGO management and social justice, the Alliance for Green Heat has already made its presence felt.

The Alliance has laid out some clear policy objectives that set it apart from any other group we know of. For example, this group doesn’t hesitate to mention that low-income families in rural areas are a significant but mainly neglected constituency in energy discussions. Ackerly’s group wants governments to “Recognize the leadership of low and middle-income Americans in fighting climate change through the long-term, sustainable use of biomass heat” (by which they mean natural firewood and wood pellets). They also want to “Demonstrate that the benefits of biomass heat are on par with solar, wind and geothermal to lower residential carbon footprints”. These are admirable statements that we don’t hear other groups making in quite the same way.

The Alliance is aggressive in promoting cleaner burning wood heating appliances and is in the thick of EPA’s current initiative to revise and expand the rules that made low-emission certification mandatory for wood stoves in 1988. It has adopted a particularly firm stance on conventional outdoor wood boilers which are notorious for making a lot of smoke. In some areas, anger over pollution from outdoor boilers has led to a generalized condemnation of all wood heating, which makes the Alliance’s (and our) task of promoting responsible wood heating a lot more difficult.

The Alliance for Green Heat as a welcome and necessary voice in the promotion and defense of responsible home heating with wood.

Published on Energy Bulletin (