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.