Friday, February 28, 2014

Industry and Air Quality Agencies Spar at EPA’s Public Hearing on New Wood Stove Regulations

Most of the controversy at the EPA’s public hearing on their new residential wood heater regulations was not about outdoor wood boilers or other unregulated heaters but about the traditional wood stove.
Greg Green, Alison Simcox and Gil
Wood from the EPA listen to testimony
at the Boston public hearing.

The largest bloc of speakers was from industry that appeared to have a well-coordinated, consistent message that these rules are ill-conceived and counter-productive.  Most of the industry speakers made the point that the rules would likely raise the cost of stoves considerably, thereby slowing the switch from old, more polluting stoves to new, cleaner ones.  They said that the solution to wood smoke should focus on changing out older stoves, not trying to squeeze another gram per hour or two out of newer ones.

More than a dozen air quality officials and advocates spoke just as passionately about the need for cleaner stoves, expressing general support for the proposed regulations and arguing for a short timetable for them to take effect.  State officials from New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Minnesota and Washington argued for the regulations while one state, Maine, sided much more with industry.  Patricia Aho, Commissioner from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection expressed many reservations about the proposed rule, including strong reservations about a move toward more catalytic stoves.  Several state officials called for Phase 1 standards, which take effect right away, to be stricter.

An assistant for Senator Patrick Leahy from Vermont said the Senator was generally supportive and would be providing formal written comments.  He, like many of the speakers, talked about the importance of wood stoves for middle and lower-income consumers.  A legislator from Missouri on the opposite side of the political spectrum said it is clear that the “EPA is trying to outlaw wood stoves” and that the EPA should not allow “environmental groups to be involved in the rulemaking.”

One notable difference between the EPA and most state officials is that the latter all talked about the importance of wood and pellets as a local, affordable and renewable energy source, themes that are largely absent in the EPA proposal or website.

One consistent talking point echoed by many industry presenters was that catalytic stoves performed well only in the laboratory and that consumers did not operate them well in their homes, leading to excess pollution.  Many in industry called on the EPA to allow non-catalytic stoves to meet a more lenient emission standard while holding cat stoves to a more stringent one.  Tom Morrissey, owner of Woodstock Soapstone vigorously defended catalytic stoves and called into question a report funded by US and Canadian non-cat producers.

While most of industry speakers supported change-outs over tighter emission standards for new stoves, one manufacturer who makes the exempt, uncertified stoves seemed to be advocating for the continued ability to sell these stoves.  The EPA estimates that about 20,000 new exempt, uncertified stoves are sold and installed each year. 

Many of the manufacturers argued for the need for sell-through periods and more lead-time to comply with the new standards.  Other stakeholders called for an end of the sale of unqualified outdoor wood boilers as soon as possible, with no sell-through period. 

An importer of European boilers urged the EPA to also accept the Brookhaven test method for boilers with thermal storage and set an achievable emission target for that method which includes start-up emissions.  A retailer of Central Boiler outdoor boilers from New Hampshire talked about his lower-income consumers who could not afford a qualified unit, and urged the EPA to allow him to a reasonable sell-through period for his qualified units.

A manufacturer of fireplaces called on the EPA to regulate fireplaces, instead of exempting them again, as the EPA proposes.  The American Lung Association strongly supported this, also urging that fireplaces be regulated.  Several representatives of masonry stove builders urged the EPA to further work with them to ensure that their units could be certified.

The CEO of US Stoves noted that the SBA and OMB had serious problems with the EPA’s proposed rules and stressed how many of their customers were from low-income homes that are very sensitive to even small price increases.  US Stoves and others currently sell quite a few EPA certified models in the $600 - $900 range, comparable to the price of stoves in the 1970s when adjusted for inflation.

Several organizations, including the Alliance for Green Heat, spoke of the benefits of consumers having access to third-party verified efficiency numbers using a consistent efficiency measurement and having that number prominently displayed on a hang-tag on the showroom floor.  The EPA proposed to eliminate the hangtag with no explanation as to why.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The EPA Publishes Trove of Documents that Influenced the NSPS

Along with proposed regulations, the EPA published 367 documents that are now available for public review and scrutiny.  Many are available to the public for the first time.  Many of the documents are long, substantive studies, test data and formal presentations to the EPA by various stakeholders.  But other documents are email threads that the EPA considered significant. 
The trove of documents can be found here at serves as EPA’s electronic public docket and on-line comment system.
The documents range span two decades of research, reports and studies about wood heat emissions, health impacts, testing issues and regulatory issues.   Included are all substantive correspondence between states, air quality agencies, industry and others.  Lawyers will be sifting through the documents to see whether the EPA has a “reasonable basis” to propose the emission limits and other requirements that it chose. 
The documents also bring to light major controversies within the hearth community regarding the NSPS.  Besides the issues surrounding test methods for outdoor boilers, documents show that non-catalytic stove manufacturers engaged in a concerted effort to discredit catalytic stoves. A group of manufacturers paid for a firm to conduct a study that showed catalytic stoves work well in the laboratory, but not in the hands of consumers who don’t operate them correctly.  They concluded that catalytic stoves should be held to a 2.5 g/hr standard and non-cat stoves held only to a 4.5 g/hr.
This internecine battle, and maybe others, could undermine the ability of the HPBA to present a unified voice to EPA and is likely to be raised during the February 26 public hearing in Boston.

This is also the site where the public can see the comments made since the regulations were posted on the Federal Register on Monday, February 5.  As of Tuesday, February 27, 153 comments have been posted, many of which are anonymous, short, impassioned statements telling the EPA that the regulations are unnecessary or counterproductive.  Some are from manufacturers and others that address the details and implications of various aspects of the proposed rule.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Testimony in Support of Thermal Energy in Maryland's Renewable Portfolio Standard

HB 931 – Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard - Thermal Energy

Date: February 20, 2014
Committee: Economic Matters

John Ackerly, President
Alliance for Green Heat
6930 Carroll Ave., Suite 407
Takoma Park, Maryland 20912



The Alliance for Green Heat urges the Economic Matters Committee to issue a favorable report on HB 931 either in its present form or with amendments offered by Delegate Stein.


Thank you Chairman Davis and member of the Committee for this opportunity to testify.

We would also like to thank the Maryland Thermal Energy Task Force for the work they did and  we support their recommendations. While it was disappointing that the bill to include thermal woody biomass in the RPS last year did not pass, the creation of this Task Force was an excellent process to bring more coherence and consistency to thermal energy pathways in the RPS.

Any RPS that focuses on only one renewable energy pathway – electricity – creates unfair and mostly unintended consequences for other energy pathways, notably heat energy. If an RPS excludes heat energy, we lose leverage over a huge piece of the energy pie. Including thermal energy gives us many more ways to reduce fossil fuels and bring more renewable technologies to the table so that we can achieve even more aggressive renewable energy goals.

Delegate Dana Stein, sponsor of
HB 931
The Alliance for Green Heat focuses on residential wood and pellet heating which is by far the largest contributor of residential renewable energy in Maryland and the United States.

There are 12 million installations of wood and pellet heating appliances in the United States, compared to less than half a million solar panel installations. Biomass heat can tap into this huge residential renewable energy market because it is far more affordable than solar or geothermal. The problem is that most homes in Maryland and the US that use wood heat have old stoves that are too polluting. Including residential thermal biomass in the RPS will help thousands of Maryland families to be able to afford an upgrade to modern, cleaner and more efficient technology.

We have focused our incentives on solar and geothermal, which favor wealthy families and left out rural middle and low-income families who heat with wood and pellets. Including residential thermal biomass in the RPS will extend the benefits of the RPS to average Maryland families and not just focus those benefits on the wealthy families that install solar and geothermal and who are typically concentrated in Montgomery and Howard counties.

We believe all Maryland households should have the option to participate in our renewable energy future and that means including technologies like new, high efficiency EPA certified wood and pellet stoves in the RPS. We commend the Maryland Energy Administration for starting a grant program for wood and pellet stoves, like they have for solar, but this rebate is simply not enough for many families to overcome the initial purchase price of a system that can effectively heat their entire home. Residential thermal RECS will enable lower and middle-income Maryland families to benefit from this economic framework just like wealthy Maryland families.

For these reasons, we strongly favor reforming the RPS to be more cost effective and more technology neutral in achieving the renewable energy goals that are important to Maryland’s economic and environmental health and well-being. 

HB931 creates an incentive to more efficiently utilize our finite biomass resources, putting less pressure on the sustainability of our forests to meet increasing energy demands. HB931 will increase jobs, wealth, and economic benefits associated with using biomass for energy in Maryland.

We support the 65% efficiency minimum. If anything, with respect to residential wood and pellet heating, 65% is on the low side. Most residential wood and pellet heaters achieve 70% efficiency and the best ones are over 80%, measured in higher heat value (HHV) using the EPA endorsed CSA B415.1 calculation. Given the diverse stakeholders impacted by this legislation, we think 65% efficiency is fair and achievable for new, thermal systems.

We also strongly support excluding wood waste that includes treated or painted wood because most non-utility scale plants do not have the emission control systems that could handle wood waste without creating air quality problems.

Thank you and I would be happy to take any questions.

Click here for a pdf copy of the Fiscal Note analyzing the costs of this bill.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

4 Reasons Why Wood and Pellet Stove Efficiency Numbers are Unreliable

Updated: December, 2016

Confused about stove efficiencies?  You’re not alone.  Even most people in the industry are confused – or don’t want to really let consumers know what is going on.  Granted, it’s complicated and tough to explain stove efficiencies to people who are not experts, but stove manufacturers also have their own incentives for obfuscating what the numbers actually mean. Heating with wood and pellets can be an excellent way to affordably heat your home with a local, renewable fuel.  But the sooner the EPA requires manufacturers to disclose accurate efficiencies, the better it will be for consumers.

Here are 4 main reasons why stove efficiencies are unreliable:.

1. Unlike all other heating and cooling equipment that has third party-verified efficiencies, the EPA did not require that stove manufacturers report their tested efficiencies until May 2015.  Stoves tested after May 15, 2015 have to test for, and disclose, their efficiency, but most of stoves on the market were tested before that so they still do not have to disclose their efficiency. The result is that stove manufacturers routinely advertise efficiencies that are higher than their actual efficiency.

2. This confusion became even worse in 2009 when Congress and the IRS did not  preclude companies from self-certifying their efficiency using the European lower heat value (LHV).  Practically overnight, every manufacturer claimed that all their stoves were at least 75% efficient in order to qualify for the federal tax credit (which at that time was $1,500 then went to $300 and as of Dec. 31, 2016 its expired.)

3. Many pellet stoves have a history of very low efficiency. The EPA used to regulate particulate matter  in pellet stoves in a way that gave them an incentive to have a very high air to fuel.  All the old pellet stoves were grandfathered if they emitted less than 4.5 grams an hour.  Although most pellet stoves on the market today have efficiencies above 60%, there are some as low as 40 – 50%.  Even so, virtually all claim to be at least 75% for purposes of the federal tax credit.

4. Manufacturers have used a variety of different ways to test for efficiency and choose the way that makes their products look most efficient.  Moreover, they can do the testing in their own lab instead of having a reputable, third party lab do independent testing. 

That said, not all manufacturers exaggerate their numbers and most make reliable, good quality stoves.  But there is not a culture of transparency among stove manufacturers, but rather a culture that only discloses what is required by law to be disclosed.  There are 3 things consumers can do to protect themselves from purchasing an inefficient stove.

Buy a stove that reports its actual efficiency results to the EPA.  A handful of manufacturers have recently provided the EPA with third party-verified efficiency numbers, and we hope more will do so in the future.  As of December 2016, there are more than 125 stoves on the EPA’s list with third verified numbers using HHV.  The majority of these are wood stoves.  Few pellet stove manufacturers provide verified efficiency numbers.  Several companies now  provide verified efficiency numbers for all their stoves. For a list of the stoves, click here.  Generally, catalytic stoves are 5 – 10% higher efficiency than non-catalytic stoves and are much easier to keep a fire burning cleanly and efficiently overnight. 

 Keep in mind that with wood stoves, efficiency is not just a function of the stove, but also how the operator uses it.  Make sure to use seasoned wood that is under 20% moisture content to get the highest efficiency out of your stove. For pellet stoves, make sure to clean the stove once or twice a month and have a professional deep cleaning once a year. Otherwise, efficiency can drop significantly as pellet stoves get dirtier.

The Alliance for Green Heat is a non-profit consumer organzation that promotes cleaner and more efficient wood heating. For more information about us and our programs, click here.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

HPBA Joins Lawsuit Against EPA

In November, 2013 the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA) joined a lawsuit brought against the EPA arguing that its members have and are suffered economic injury as a result of the EPA's failure to enact the NSPS in a timely way.

The lawsuit had already been brought by non-profits that are at odds with the HPBA - the American
Lung Association, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Pennsylvania based Clean Air Council and Connecticut based Environment and Human Health Inc.  This lawsuit is is based on the statutory duty of the EPA to conduct a NSPS every 8 years and the parties to the suit gain some control over the timing of the promulgation of the NSPS.

The HPBA complaint, excerpted below, shows how some technology classes, like outdoor wood boilers, saw more benefits in a national standard than having to meet different state standards and the prospect of jurisdictions simply banning devices in the absence of national emission standards.  Currently, outdoor boiler manufacturers who are part of the EPA's voluntary program have to compete with boiler companies who do not meet any emission standards in most states.

There is widespread uncertainty among stove and boiler manufacturers about the timing of the NSPS and how quickly they will be held to the new standards after those standards are announced in 2015.  HPBA is advocating for extended "sell through" periods so manufacturers, distributors and retailers can sell off stock that does not meet the new standards.  

Excerpts of the HPBA’s Complaint in the matter of
American Lung Association et al and HPBA, Plaintiffs vs. Gina McCarthy, Defendant

17. HPBA’s members have suffered and continue to suffer economic injury as a result of EPA’s failure to timely complete its review and revision of the Subpart AAA standards.

18. EPA’s delay impedes HPBA’s members’ ability to meaningfully plan to assure compliance with revised regulatory requirements, and to do so without incurring additional costs due to the resultant regulatory uncertainty. In particular, woodstove manufacturers as well as manufacturers of other appliances are forced to delay specific planning or investment, or do so at the risk that their efforts may be redone in light of requirements ultimately promulgated under a revised Subpart AAA. As long as EPA continues to delay its revision of Subpart AAA standards, the costs of regulatory uncertainty continue to mount.

19. EPA’s delay also uniquely injures HPBA members in the hydronic heater and masonry heater subsets of the industry as a result of the existing NSPS’s inapplicability to these appliances. These members currently face a patchwork of inconsistent state and local regulatory requirements and, in some cases, product bans as a result of EPA’s failure to timely revise the NSPS so as to incorporate these categories of appliances within Subpart AAA.

20. HPBA’s Hydronic Heater Sub-Section wrote EPA six years ago seeking coverage under the Subpart AAA regulations so as to foster greater uniformity in hydronic heater standards, and to mitigate the costs of participation in separate state and local proceedings. EPA’s continued delay in issuing revised standards including hydronic heaters prevents manufacturers from obtaining resolution of the contentious issues surrounding these appliances and from seeking EPA-certification for their appliances. In the meantime, new state and local standards continue to be issued, including, most recently, proposed emission limits for wood heaters, including hydronic heaters, in Alaska. As a result, EPA’s members in the hydronic heater industry continue to face costs as a result of EPA’s delay.

Friday, February 7, 2014

More States Start Innovative Stove Incentive Programs

Updated: Dec. 4, 2019 - More states are starting or changing their stove incentive programs to tighten eligibility, require professional installation, and sometimes, to install an outside air supply.  Until recently, incentive programs only required that wood stoves be EPA certified.  And even though the EPA certifies many pellet stoves, it did not recommend EPA certified pellet stoves be required in incentive or change-out programs prior to 2015.  Change-out programs designed and managed by the EPA and HPBA used to allow virtually any new wood or pellet stove to be installed.  The new trend led by states is changing all that.

The Oregon program, which began in 2013, was the most complex in terms of requirements and provided up to a $1,500 tax credit.  The highest tax credit awarded was $960, according to Deby Davis of the Oregon Department of Energy. The program was discontinued in 2017.

For larger tax credits, the Oregon program required that stoves have actual measured efficiencies and be listed on the EPA list of certified wood stoves.  When the program operated, 100 stoves had provided the EPA with actual efficiencies and those brands got a bump in sales in Oregon.  If the manufacturer of the stove had not provided the EPA with an actual measured efficiency, the Oregon tax credit was $144 for non-catalytic stoves, $216 for catalytic and $288 for pellet stoves. 

The Maine program had wanted to require actual efficiencies but as of now only requires emission limits only.  The emission limits of 3.5 grams per hour for wood stoves and 2.5 for pellet stoves mirror the emission limits in Oregon.  Despite a very generous $5,000 rebate for residential boilers, the Maine program provides only $500 per stove.

The Maryland program is slightly stricter on emissions, with an upper threshold of 3.0 for wood and 2.0 for pellet stoves.  The program provided a larger rebates for stove with listed efficiencies.  The program is unique in that the $500 - $700 rebate is only available to homes that do not have access to natural gas.  The program does not require that an uncertified stove be traded in for a new stove. As of Feb. 1, 2020 stoves must have an EPA listed efficiency of 70% to be eligible for the credit.
These programs mark a trend towards stricter eligibility for stoves incentivized with taxpayer funds.  But managers of these programs are struggling with some unintended barriers and consequences. 

 Oregon, Maine and Maryland require professional installation and Oregon and Maine require inclusion of outside air supply.  In Oregon, this could have meant a simple $35 vent that provides air within several feet of the stove.  All three programs avoid "free riders" to some extent because even if the incentive does not lead to the sale, the state achieves important goals of professional installation, cleaner appliances, outside air where applicable, etc.  Free riders is a term used for consumers who get a rebate but who would have made the same purchase regardless of the incentive.

The 2015 EPA stove regulations required all newly certifiedstoves to be tested and listed for efficiency and all stoves have to be retested by May 15, 2020.  This will change the efficiency requirments on a numbrer of state incentive programs.