Friday, July 22, 2011

Central Boiler Responds to Rhode Island Outdoor Boiler Story

Last month, we posted a story which also ran in our newsletter about attempts in Rhode Island to pass legislation on outdoor wood boilers. We received several interesting communications as a result and wanted to update that story - and correct ourselves.

One of the communications was from Central Boiler, who gave us permission to quote from their email. They rightly pointed out that we failed "to make mention of the most recent Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management’s Regulation No. 48 which became law April 14, 2011." That regulation requires that all outdoor boilers installed after July 1 are Phase 2 qualified and Central Boiler was not opposed to this regulation.

Central Boiler also noted that the Alliance for Green Heat mistakenly indicated that Pennsylvania has established a 150 foot set back, whereas in fact it is 50. We stand corrected.

Also, Central Boiler said that they had "NOT taken out any ads regarding the Bills" in Rhode Island, as the Alliance had alleged. However, the Alliance has in its possession a paid advertisement on page 11 of the March 30 edition of the Rhode Island “Bargain Buyer” signed by Central Boiler and apparently taken out by a Central Boiler dealer or agent. The ad urges owners of outdoor wood boilers to contact their legislator to oppose H5783.

The Alliance for Green Heat believes that the EPA should have established a mandatory program for outdoor wood boilers years ago, requiring that only Phase 2 boilers be installed anywhere in the country. We also support the provision in H5783 that would have required that non Phase 2 boilers be removed upon the sale or rental of a home and that outdoor boilers be set back 150 feet from the property line.

While the Alliance for Green Heat and Central Boiler do not agree on many things, we appreciate the open and respectful dialogue we have with them.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Wood Heat Symposium Challenges Policy Makers to Address Wood Heat’s Potential

This last Tuesday, Washington DC witnessed a rare event; a group of policy makers, industry officials and environmental organizations gathered to discuss the renewable energy contributions of everyday Americans using wood to heat their homes. The basics of this technology has been around for hundreds of years, but its modern form has yet to earn the same respect and attention flashier renewable energies such as wind or solar power receive. Wood heat provides 80% of residential renewable energy in America, solar PV 15% and geothermal only 5%, but wood heat has consistently been neglected by state and federal policy makers. On Tuesday, the Alliance for Green Heat’s Symposium, “Scaling up Residential Biomass Heating” helped to raise the profile of residential wood heat in Washington.

This symposium explored the opportunities for policy makers to maximize the potential of residential wood heat to reduce fossil fuel use in a tight fiscal climate, while minimizing its drawbacks. The eleven expert speakers covered the policy landscape, sustainability and emissions issues, state and federal case studies and results of a newly released study on wood heat incentives. The discussion was divided into two panels, the first, “Wood Heat in America: The People’s Renewable,” was a bright look at the scale and potential of wood heat in America, with Dave Atkins from the Forest Service outlining the ecological benefits of firewood harvest, John Ackerly of the Alliance for Green Heat presenting on how wood heat will continue to outplace solar, Jack Goldman of the Hearth Industry discussing how technological innovations are cleaning up wood smoke and Jon Strimling of American Biomass discussing how the country can further scale up wood heat. This panel was introduced by Edmund Gee of the USDA, and moderated by Lily Donge of the socially responsible investment group, Calvert Asset Management.

The second panel outlined various policy and incentive options for residential wood heat. The Alliance for Green Heat’s Tatiana Butler both moderated and discussed their newly released 130 page policy toolkit on Transforming Wood Heat in America. Scott Nichols of Tarm USA began the discussion by comparing the US’s progress on promoting wood heat as a valuable energy solution with the great advancements Europe has made. Steve Nadel from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy discussed how incentives can act to drive the market towards the most efficient appliances. Finally Chris Rice from the Maryland Energy Administration gave a real life example of how Maryland has tried to integrate wood heat into their renewable energy policies. Ed Cesa concluded the symposium with a discussion of the valuable educational work the Wood Education and Resource Center performs and finances.

Stakeholders who attended included representatives from the Forest Service, EPA, state energy offices, the EIA, environmental groups, non-profits, the Congressional Research Service and many wood heat related businesses. There was concern expressed over how we would know when the nation would hit the point of unsustainable harvest. While that point is far in the future, attendees felt it was important to consider when growing the use of woody biomass while other uses of it may grow quickly as well. Other discussion centered on how low-income families would be affected by tightening emission standards and the difficulties invasive species such as the Emerald Ash Bore, pose to the firewood industry.

The Alliance for Green Heat wishes to express its thanks to everyone who participated and contributed to a valuable and ongoing discussion, and especially to the Wood Education and Resource Center, and the Forest Service headquarters. For copies of the power point presentations, click here.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Report Finds Wood Heat Dominates Residential Renewable Market

Consumer demand, not government incentives, driving the most cost-effective residential renewable energy sector

July 11, 2011 - A report released today by the non-profit group, Alliance for Green Heat, finds that wood heating in America is dominating the residential renewable energy market, and doing so with virtually no government subsidies.

Approximately 13 million wood and pellet stoves are in operation today in about 10% of American homes, saving American families hundreds of millions of dollars in fossil fuel bills. 80% of residential renewable energy comes from wood and pellets, while only 15% comes from solar and 5% from geothermal, according to the US Department of Energy.

“Wood and pellet heating in America proves that low and middle-income families can lead the way, not follow, when it comes to using renewable energy,” said John Ackerly, President of the Alliance for Green Heat. “While federal and state subsidies flow to wealthy families to install solar panels, ordinary American families are reducing their reliance on fossil fuels much faster with wood and pellet heating,” Ackerly said.

However, the group warns that while wood heat is growing in popularity, many of the stoves and boilers in operation today are too polluting, and programs to replace old appliances with new ones are badly needed.

The report, “Transforming Wood Heat in America: A Toolkit of Policy Options,” found that biomass heating equipment excels at quickly and affordably reducing fossil fuel use, but few states provide incentives for the most modern, clean units. The report concluded that a $1,000 stove incentive could reduce as much fossil fuel as a $10,000 solar incentive, drive consumers towards extremely low emitting units, and help ordinary Americans affordably meet their utility bills.

A Wood Heat Task Force comprised of industry, air quality experts, non-profits and foresters helped guide the yearlong study that was partially funded by the US Forest Service. The report found that while emissions were a barrier to widespread use of some existing technologies, wood and pellet harvesting was generally very sustainable. The report’s authors interviewed more than 150 stakeholders to assemble a policy toolkit to help local, state and federal officials promote cleaner wood heating in America and maximize its potential as a core renewable energy technology.

The report will be released Wednesday, July 13 at a symposium held at the US Forest Service and the results will also be presented at a webinar on July 19.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Commentary: Innovative Rhode Island Hydronic Heater Bill Stalls

Rhode Island residents and legislators have some innovative ways to combat the residential hydronic boilers that are often highly polluting. H5783, which went through numerous changes, required anyone selling or renting property with a traditional hydronic heater to remove it, as Oregon does with non-EPA certified stoves.

The bill would also require traditional hydronic heaters to be located at least 150 feet from the nearest property, requiring some owners to move or potentially stop using their boiler.

However, the bill did not pass during the 2011 session. Rhode Island is that last northeastern state to establish property setbacks for hydronic heaters. The leading hydronic heater company, Central Boiler, has vigorously lobbied against various bills that would have provided regulations for outdoor boilers. They have also taken out paid ads urging boiler owners to contact their elected representatives.

The Alliance for Green Heat believes that H5783 Substitute A was a very reasonable bill that balanced the interests of stakeholders. It required that only Phase 2 boilers could be installed after January 1, 2012 and established a 150-foot property set back requirement, which is more than Central Boiler wants but less than what air quality experts are advocating for. Pennsylvania recently adopted a 150-foot rule.

The bill did not have any seasonal restrictions such as the ones that Indiana and areas in Massachusetts have successfully included in their regulations, nor does it have other protections. However, the phase out provision that requires removal upon sale or rental of home is a promising provision that should be considered by all states.

Traditional hydronic heaters that are not qualified under the EPA’s voluntary program are viewed as the scourge of residential wood heating by many in the US, including some within the wood heat industry. States that have not passed bills establishing set backs and other important protections should do so, and they should look at some of the provisions in H5783. We believe H5783 could have been even stronger, but too often bills in places like Rhode Island and Connecticut have failed because companies like Central Boiler have resources to stop them while clean air advocates were pushing for measures that were politically unrealistic.

This is at least the third year that the Rhode Island legislature has failed to pass a hydronic heater bill, leaving their constituents vulnerable to excessive wood smoke. We hope next year the legislature will muster the common sense to do what all other states in the Northeast have already done.