Friday, May 18, 2012

Generous Wood Stove Incentives May Return in France

Written by John Ackerly, President
Alliance for Green Heat
The recent election of Socialist François Hollande as France’s next President may herald a return of generous incentives for renewable energy, including wood and pellet stoves and heaters.

Ousted President Nicolas Sarkozy, a conservative, was a staunch supporter of nuclear power. Under his presidency, incentives for renewables were drastically reduced.

Unlike the United States, France and most of Europe includes thermal energy in its renewable energy standards. In France, wood heat was projected to produce 7.2 Mtoe (million tons of oil equivalent) of energy by 2020, whereas geothermal and thermal solar was only projected to produce a combined 2.9 Mtoe.

France has been active in promoting residential wood heat through its policies, which have so far been effective in increasing the number of households using wood. For instance, the country developed an extensive program to encourage the use of wood fuel for heating in collective housing and as a result, experienced an increase of 37.5% in this area between 2006 and 2007. In individual households, the Wood Energy Plan  in 2007 led to an increase of 82.5 % of the wood energy equipment sales.

In 2005, tax credits were set at 50% for equipment using renewable energy sources including efficient wood fired boilers, masonry stoves, etc. The sustainable development tax credit was planned through 2012, but the rates fell rapidly from 50% to being phased out altogether. For more info.

In 2005, stoves that were eligible for tax credits had to be at least 65% efficient. This standard was later increased to 70%. France uses the Flamme Verte eco-label, which sets some of the lowest standards of any eco-label in Europe, according to stove experts.*

In the US, the nationally recognized, government sanctioned label Energy Star doesn't have a program for wood and pellet stoves yet, so federal and state incentive and change-out programs are left to determine what emission and efficiency standards government funds should incentivize.

The national tax credit that expired at the end of 2011 set a 70% lower heating value threshold, but it did not stipulate how efficiency should be measured, nor did it require independent third party testing and reporting. Manufacturers were allowed to certify that their own products met the threshold (virtually every stove did).

It's far too early to tell whether incoming President Hollande will also work to increase efficiency and emission standards in France or whether the incentives will return to the 50% level any time soon. It may be more likely that the incentives would be in the 20 - 40% range.

Hollande also says that he will work to reduce France’s dependence on nuclear power to 50 percent by the year 2025. Currently, 75% of France's power comes from nuclear. It also exports some to Germany and other countries.

* Many European countries have adopted their own eco-labels to serve as minimum standards for the equipment that receives government incentives. Some of the stoves that met the 65% and 70% efficiency thresholds in France are widely regarded as being very basic stoves and would not receive incentives in many other European countries.

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