Wednesday, March 3, 2010

U.S. Senate includes high efficiency biomass appliances in Cash for Caulkers

The U.S. Senate released a draft version of the Home Star program, known as Cash for Caulkers, that includes high efficiency wood and pellet stoves and boilers. To be eligible for the $1,000 rebate, stoves need to be 75% efficient and boilers 80% efficient, be third party tested and meet several other requirements.

"Wood and pellet stoves are now being brought into mainstream appliance standards where they belong," sad John Ackerly, President of the Alliance for Green Heat, an independent non-profit that promotes cleaner and more efficient wood heat. "Inclusion in the Home Star program will help tens of thousands of low and middle-income families who rely on wood and pellets to lower their fossil fuel heating bills," said Mr. Ackerly

The Home Star program sets a strict standard, as it does with other appliances, by only allowing the cleanest and most efficient stoves and boilers to qualify. Some experts believe only 10 - 20% of stoves and boilers on the market will qualify.

The EPA has never required efficiency testing for wood stoves and boilers, their emissions standards have not been updated in more than 20 years and they have not set up an Energy Star program for wood stoves or boilers. The EPA allows up to 7.5 grams of particulates per hour, but engineers today are making stoves that emit as little as 1 gram per hour. Home Star requires 4.5 or lower.

"Wood stoves may be one of the only surprises in the Home Star bill. However, wood and pellet stoves and boilers are making a comeback and are cropping up in more and more efficiency and renewable energy programs," according to Mr. Ackerly. "New advances in technology are making wood and pellet stoves incredibly clean and efficient. The Home Star standard will finally set a more challenging bar for an industry undergoing rapid change and innovation."

The Alliance for Green Heat provided expertise and advice the Technical Committee made up of groups such as ACEEE, Efficiency First and NRDC who were instrumental in crafting efficiency standards in the Home Star program.

Home Star program details for biomass appliances

Important: This is a summary of key provisions in the Home Star program as released by the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Language may change before it is passed into law. The DOE will issue final clarification on these issues. This is only our interpretation of the bill based on discussions with members of the Technical Committee that helped to draft it.

The rebate is for 50% of purchase and installation costs up to $1,000. Sec. 2104(d)(1). The rebate will be immediate if its from an approved store (an "aggregator').

Start date
Once the bill is passed into law, which could happen in March, the DOE is supposed to finalize all details within 30 days. Potentially, homes could start participating in May. Sec. 2102 (e).

Efficiency and emissions requirements
Wood and pellet stoves need to be 75% efficient and meet the Washington state standards of emitting no more than 4.5 grams of particulates per hour. Boilers, including boilers, must be 80% efficient. Sec 2104(b)(8)(A)(v)(II).

Third party testing
Unlike the federal tax credit, which allowed manufactures to certify that their products are 75% efficient, this program requires third party certification. Sec 2104(b)(8)(A)(v). We believe that this will mean that the appliances has been tested by one of the five EPA accredited wood stove testing facilities in North America, or a similar institution based in Europe. Its is expected that the existing data that testing facilities have from emissions testing can be used to calculate efficiency, so that stoves do not need to be tested again. The testing facilities will have to submit this data to DOE or whoever is designated by DOE to determine what appliances meet the threshold. For a list of accredited facilities in North America click here.

75% of home's heating needs
The stove or boiler must be able to meet 75% of the heating demands of a home. For stoves, this means that the program will favor larger stoves - and smaller homes. Boilers would normally be sized to meet 100% of a home's heating needs. From what we understand, the "qualified contractor" makes that determination. This presumable means 75% of average annual heating needs, not the ability to heat 75% at any particular time.

Primary heating system
There are apparently a few errors in this version of the bill that the Senate Committee released and this is one of them. Langauge that says the new system is the primary heating system will likely be removed. Sec 2104(b)(8)(A)(v)(I).

Heat distribution system
The stove or boiler must have "a distribution system (such as ducts of vents) that allows heat to reach all or most parts of the home." Sec 2104(b)(8)(A)(v)(I)(bb) Since the stove or boiler must be able to meet 75% of the heating demands of a home, it is expected that this means that unless the home is very small and the stove can heat all or most of the home from where it is placed, some distribution system will be required. If the upstairs is small, a simple vent in the ceiling of the room where the stove is located may suffice. Or, in a smaller one-story house, door frame fans may suffice. If the home already has a forced air furnace, the fan function using the existing ductwork to distribute warm air throughout the house may suffice.

Replacement requirement
To purchase a wood stove and receive the rebate, you have to replace an existing wood stove. However, there is no replacement requirement if you are buying a pellet stove, or a pellet or wood boiler or furnace. The existing stove does not have to be a pre-1988 EPA certified stove.

The stove or boiler must be installed by a "qualified contractor" who meets certain standards included being licensed, bonded and will warranty their work is free of defects. Sec. 2101(17).

Principal residence
The program only covers existing principal residences that are in the US. New construction is not covered.

Combining the rebate and federal 30% tax credit
The federal 30% tax credit, up to $1,500, also applies through the end of 2010. (It could be extended beyond then.) Thus, if a stove and installation came to $3,500, the rebate would be $1,000 on the spot, and you would get a credit for 30% of the $2,500 that you are out-of-pocket, which would be $750. Your final cost would be $1,750, exactly half of the original price.

Alliance for Green Heat
6930 Carroll Ave, Suite 407
Takoma Park, MD 20912

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