Monday, July 30, 2012

Derecho Creates Firewood Bonanza in the Mid-Atlantic Region

On the 29th and 30th of June, violent thunderstorms known as a “derecho” slammed a 700-mile-long corridor from Indiana to the southern mid-Atlantic coast. The storm resulted in extensive straight-line wind damage and millions of power outages, but also created a bonanza of free firewood in a part of the country more accustomed to treating firewood as waste than as a valuable, low-carbon fuel.

In the Washington DC area tons of wood from fallen trees will be sent to local dumps, where haulers and tree trimmers pay $32-46 per ton to dispose of it.

Firewood from the derecho can provide almost free, carbon neutral heat for thousands of homes, but here is the rub: there is barely enough time to split, stack and dry the wood before this coming winter arrives. Hopefully, many homeowners will be putting it away for the 2013/14 heating season, 18 months from now.

Wet wood produces little heat, and excessive smoke, not to mention creosote. So if people are going to keep firewood from the storm, it needs to be split now, stacked and covered.

Approximately 60% of stoves in the Washington area are not EPA certified. While these old stoves may be one person’s energy solution, they could also be their neighbors’ health hazard, especially if unseasoned wood is used.

In New England, downed trees are far more likely to end up as firewood. And, county and city tree crews sometimes provide wood from storms to low-income residents who may have had to otherwise take public heating assistance. Many churches also have “firewood ministries” where the church parking lot becomes a drop off point for tree trimmers and the wood is distributed to needy families in the community.

It is now a month after the derecho and there is still an abundance of not only downed trees, but also piles of firewood left in yards, ready for someone to ask if they can haul it away. The Alliance for Green Heat would like to see more jurisdictions deposit the wood in a yard and let anyone with an EPA certified stove come get it for free.

Ten years from now, rising fossil fuel prices may make wood from such storms much more valuable, even to households with natural gas lines. For now, we suspect that a very, very small percentage of that wood will go to reducing fossil fuel heating in the DC area. In rural parts of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia the storm produced a windfall for many homeowners and may create a much smaller demand for commercially sold firewood this fall.

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