Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"Eat or Heat" - A low-income household dilemmaa in winter

Did you know:

Since 2005, the average cost to heat homes has risen about 27%?

Residents in low-income households in the northern US are more likely to go hungry in late winter?

In northern states, poor families with children spend less of food and more on home fuels, and the children have lower caloric intake during winter months.

74% of households that include older adults report that they cut back on the purchase of household necessities because of high energy bills.

Of homes enrolled in LIHEAP, the federal low income heat assistance program, one in six reported that were were unable to use their main heating source at some point in the previous year because they did not have the money to fix a broken furnace or buy bulk fuels such as oil, propane or wood, or prevent the shutoff of utility service for non-payment.

Of LIHEAP enrolled homes, one quarter report going without food for at least one day because of energy bills in the past five years.

Source: “Affordable Home Energy and Health: Making the Connections by the
AARP Public Policy Institute, June 2010,

State of the Hearth and Biomass Industry - Themes for the Future

Dear Hearth Industry Friends,

In May of this year, I attended fantastic conference which bodes very well for our industry. The "Heating the Northeast with Renewable Biomass" was sold out with over 500 attendees, and was put together by a coalition of "green" biomass groups - see the web site at:
for the list of hosts and sponsors.

Some of these names may be familiar to you, others not so much. Yet these new groups and coalitions represent much of the future of our industry....should we choose to share in and promote that vision! The Hearth Industry has always been a fractured and regionalized industry, which has sometimes diluted our effectiveness. For instance, the idea of gas logs is somewhat foreign to a New England "Yankee" mentality, while the idea of Central Heat with wood would almost never cross the mind of someone from California. In effect, the United States and Canada are really like a number of separate countries....when it comes to heat and especially biomass heat!

I was honored to be invited to sit on the closing panel of the HeatNE conference, where the future vision of this group was discussed. This vision is quite extensive - you can find it on the web site - but the executive summary is this....the group aims to have the Northeast (New England and NY State) get 25% of their heating energy from efficiency renewal biomass! This is not some pie-in-the-sky number, but one borne of real world experience in parts of Europe which decided to start on this journey.

I came away from the conference with more questions than answers, yet at the same time can foresee a changing dynamic in they way our industry is promoted. We have always known about this regionalization, and yet other than the seperate HPBA chapters, it has rarely been part of the actual policy and planning of our industry as a whole.

As one of the few "old guys" still hanging around the industry, I can't help but watch and think about all the changes taking place - and, in this case, commenting on them!

I find myself, for instance, disagreeing with some of the stances of our national trade group, the HPBA. Our local paper constantly has articles about the follies of Outdoor Wood Boilers and I was shocked to read one story a few weeks ago where the HPBA was fighting against regulation of even the dirty models! Another recent HPBA email was telling us all to circle the wagons because it was possible that gas appliances were going to be forced to meet certain efficiency standards! Horror of Horrors!

This is nothing new. Trade organizations have always had to walk somewhat of a middle ground to keep all their constituents happy - however, I think it can be said that our industry has failed to really ride the new wave of green and renewable energy popularity, and part of the reason may be that we sometimes fail to actually stand for something!

But, as my dear old dad always say, Nature abhors a vaccuum. In this case, it seems a number of small regional and national orgs are stepping up to the plate to promote wood and pellets (biomass) as a clean, green and efficient fuel...and then putting their money and energy in lazer focus toward specific efforts to MAKE SOMETHING HAPPEN. One of those groups is the Alliance for Green Heat:
Another is The Heat Green Council
Another that most of us are familiar with is the HPBA sub-group, the Pellet Fuels Institute:

In short, there is a lot happening in our industry, and most of it bodes well for the future. But at the same time, we are right at this moment in the Worst of Times on the economic front! Reports from manufacturers and retailers are as bad as I have ever heard them...yet I do feel that their is light at the end of the tunnel....and relatively soon.

The 2010 tax credits should certainly help, and it seems as if the Federal Home Star program is going to pass the Congress - this would mean even better deals for consumers into the future. We have a Federal Government, unlike the last administration, that is BIG on renewable fuels and is interested in clean residential biomass as being part of the mix.

Some Links for education and entertainment

My last email mentioned a number of free white papers I had wrote about the state of the hearth and biomass industry. In case any of you missed that annoucement, here is the link again:

I recently gave a talk to 150 dealers at Jotul North America. In order to introduce myself to the audience, I prepared this pictorial history of some of my exploits in the Hearth Business:
Who knows? One of you may become inspired and hire me!

Well, that's about it for my mid-2010 state of the industry ramblings.....except for the usual plug for which is coming next! was read by 3.25 million visitors in 2010, who read over 19 million pages of the site! Our readers are by far the most extensive and targeted audience for Hearth and related products. If you'd like to find out more about promoting your business on, please shoot me an email at or read about the basics at:
Regional listings for dealers are only $295.00 per year!
Programs for otheres (manufacturers, importers, direct merchants, etc.) are customized for your needs. We can fit into virtually ANY marketing budget.

Craig Issod, Founder

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

As Washington Debates Tax Breaks for the Wealthy, the Renewable Energy Community Should Look for Lessons

Last week President Obama and the democrats began to challenge the Republicans over eliminating tax breaks for the wealthy by letting tax breaks for families that earn more than $250,000 expire at the end of this year. Two percent of families earn over $250,000 a year which accounts for 24% of all income earned, according to the Center for Tax Policy.

Within the renewable energy community, there is scarcely any debate about whether individual incentives for renewable energy systems should be reduced or eliminated for families over $250,000 – or even over $500,000. It is unclear how much data exists from renewable energy programs about income levels of participants of incentive programs, and even less is understood about how many wealthy families would install renewable systems without an incentive.

Not everyone is ignoring the social justice implications of regressive renewable energy incentive policies: The Florida NAACP chapter has opposed utility “payments of subsidies by the general customer base to the more affluent customers who can afford the capital outlay for conservation programs” like solar panels. Even Florida Power and Light recognizes that that wealthier people tend to use rebates for energy-saving products more than poor people, who may not be able to afford solar water heaters and other devices. “Since all utility customers pay for those rebates, it forces the poor to subsidize the wealthy,” said the NAACP.

The very wealthy tend to have much larger houses, and consume much more electricity and heat than families that earn under $100,000 a year. But should multi-millionaires get tens of thousands of tax dollars back in rebates to help power their McMansions when low-income families are having an increasingly hard time paying their utility bills?

Instead of giving the wealthy a 20% incentive and middle class families a 30% incentive, how about giving larger incentives to homes under 3,000 square feet and much smaller ones to homes over 5,000 square feet?

Adding to the problem, states rarely provide incentives to lower priced renewable energy systems that poorer families favor such as pellet stoves or modern, clean burning wood stoves. Washington State provides income-based incentives to change old older polluting stoves, with new brands that meet standards stricter than the outdated EPA standards.

Per ton of carbon offset, it’s 3 – 5 times cheaper for a state to give incentives for pellet stoves than for solar panels. The Alliance for Green Heat believes that lack of incentives for the cleanest modern biomass heaters, that are being extensively promoted in Europe, grew out of biases towards existing stock of wood stoves, which are too polluting. The result is that the most common renewable energy system in America that is used by millions of low-income families is being overlooked.

Many studies who that in winter, millions of children in America will experience food insecurity (hunger), particularly toward the end of the heating season. One study by the AARP found that 24% of inhabitants some low-income households go without food for at least one day because of high energy bills. Surely, more income-based programs that help lower income families replaces major appliances or install affordable renewable energy systems that will lower their utility bills such as modern wood heat or solar hot water, should be explored.

States and the federal government should explore how they can maximize reductions in fossil fuel usage through taxpayer incentives. If studies show that giving incentives to families that otherwise could not afford the renewable system will reduce fossil fuel usage quicker than giving incentives to all social classes, then it may be time to scale back incentives for the richest Americans.