Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Maine Governor LePage and Jotul Team Up Against Wood Stove Regulations

Updated: Jan. 2017

On April 4 2014, the Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed from Maine Governor Paul LePage. We believe the ideas in it would likely do little to advance the debate about how wood stoves could be regulated to be cleaner and more efficient.
Maine Governor Paul LePage
An underlying problem with LePage’s op-ed is that it purports to speak to national wood stove policy but speaks more to a prominent wood stove importer and manufacturer in Gorham, Maine.  
Governor LePage’s primary argument is that the EPA’s regulations will require manufacturers to spend so much money to improve their stoves that new models will be unaffordable.  As a result, instead of buying new, cleaner stoves, more people will hang on to their dirtier old stoves making pollution problems worse, not better.  The Governor greatly exaggerates this argument while overlooking the huge benefits that the EPA regulations will bring.
The Governor’s arguments are based on shaky or inaccurate assumptions.  First, many if not most people in the market for new stoves don’t already own an old stove. They are first time buyers and will be able to get a cleaner and more efficient wood or pellet stove.  Second, the price of new stoves may not go up much, if at all, for some manufacturers, because some manufacturers are already making affordable stoves that meet the strictest standards being considered by EPA that would not take effect until 2020.  Other manufacturers are buying or developing innovative technologies that are affordable and extremely clean.  Third, even if some stoves have slightly higher prices, those price increases may be more than offset by fuel savings from improved efficiency, a fact that Governor LePage overlooks.  Finally, Governor LePage does not dispute the enormous public health benefits of these regulations. 
The EPA estimates that public heath benefits will be a minimum of 115 times the cost to manufacturers to improve performance, and as much as 262 times in the best case.  (EPA estimates the public health benefits during the first 8 years at $1.8-$4.1 billion annually, and the cost to industry at $15.7 million annually.  Thus the public health return is a minimum of 115 to 1. 
Bret Watson, owner of
Jotul North America
These regulations are likely to be more costly to Jotul than to most other manufacturers. This is because Jotul’s most popular stoves have further to go than others to meet stricter standards.  And, it is because Jotul makes stoves using cast iron rather than steel. Changing to steel stoves or just adding some steel models may be tougher for Jotul because it is owned by a foreign company wed to cast iron. 
None of Jotul’s most popular stoves are less than 3.0 grams an hour, which is one likely reason that the company has been an outspoken advocate against stricter emissions standards.  Almost all major stove manufacturers except Jotul have multiple models in the 1.5 to 2.5 gram an hour range.  Jotul actively opposed a Maryland state program to give rebates to stoves at 3 gram an hour or less, but consumers, stove retailers, legislators and state regulators wanted a rebate program for cleaner wood and pellet stoves.  The program was established and has successfully helped hundreds of Marylanders get cleaner, new stoves and retire older, dirtier ones.
One of the most striking ironies of LePage’s op-ed is that he supports a common industry position that wood stove change-outs would be more effective in reducing wood smoke than requiring stricter standards for new stoves.  However, Maine is not one of the states that have provided state funds for change-out programs.  To its credit, Jotul has provided a summer discount program for consumers to trade-in an old stove and buy a new Jotul stove. 
Governor LePage mentions that Maine has a $250 rebate program for wood stoves (since then its been raised to $500).  We think this and similar programs are good, however this one does not require trading in an old, uncertified stove when buying a new one. The Efficiency Maine program has one of the lowest rebate levels and highest requirements, such as dedicated outside air supply, so that to date, the program has given out only one rebate.
The Governor also calls on the EPA to establish an incentive program for stove owners to buy newer models.  This is not a bad idea and some states do this, but not Maine.  The Federal government has had such a program in the form of a $300 tax credit.  Industry lobbies for that program but has never suggested that program only be open to owners of uncertified stoves.   
The Governor also says in his op-ed that his environmental-protection commissioner testified in Boston in February at the EPA's only public hearing.  His environmental protection commissioner, Patricia Aho, made quite an impression because she was out of step with other state officials by being so critical of the proposed regulations.  State officials representing state agencies from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Minnesota and Washington also attended the Boston public hearing and were all very supportive. 
A few observations:
1.     Any increase in purchase price that happens over the next 5 years is likely to be more than offset by fuel savings from the higher efficiency appliances that consumers will have access to.
2.     These regulations will finally require manufacturers to disclose actual, verified efficiencies to the public so that consumers can better calculate what their energy savings will be.  (Currently, most manufacturers exaggerate their efficiencies or do not disclose them at all.)
3.     Stricter emission standards are needed to help get wood and pellet appliances into renewable energy incentive programs that will help consumers afford high efficiency equipment.
4.     The regulations will bring the American indoor and outdoor wood and pellet boiler industry into the 21st century and give consumers many more choices of cleaner, higher efficiency domestic appliances.
We think the future lies in investing in the R&D that will help make American wood and pellet stoves the best in the world.  Some of the cleanest and most efficient stoves are already made here, and exports of US stoves are increasing.  In Europe and America, innovation is emerging that may start to transform the stove industry.  Soon, we are likely to have stoves that recharge cell phones in a power outage and that have automated features to maximize efficiency and minimize emissions without the operator having to guess where to set the air intake. Pellet stoves and boilers will soon be connected to our smart phones and smart thermostats – and be far smarter themselves.

Many in industry are fighting for the status quo rather than building on a robust engineering tradition and good old Yankee ingenuity to build cleaner, more efficient and easier to operate stoves.  Wood stoves have had the reputation of being too dirty for too long.  These new regulations from the EPA are our best shot at getting away from that reputation and joining the mainstream of the renewable energy future.


  1. You make a lot of good points, but your left leaning politics are also showing, and have been for a while. You claim Gov LePage leans too far to the right, and that's bad. Yet you give no actual facts to back up your claims, just opinions. I have an opinion too - the EPA is a dangerous organization that has overstepped its authority on way too many issues. Yes, we need clean air. Do we need to make clean stoves cleaner before we tackle other more egregious problems such as unregulated outdoor boilers? I don't think so. I appreciate the work you do for wood heat but your political bias comes through very clearly as I'm sure mine does. The difference is that as an organization I would hope that you would be more politically balanced than me as an individual.

  2. Excellent analysis of the situation in Maine. The NFA strongly supports your position that we must do all we can for firewood to be taken seriously as a sustainable source of alternative energy.

    That said, we've been fans of Jotul stoves for decades and hope they can find a way to make those beautiful castings burn clean enough to meet these standards.

    A steel Jotul just wouldn't be a Jotul.

  3. I disagree completely, in our shop, we deal with folks on a regular basis that are looking to upgrade / replace their current wood stove. Even now some find the new ones too expensive. Alliance for Green Heat is pointing the finger at Jotul, while showing their own clear bias towards the Catalytic companies. The EPA is brilliant in their approach to our industry, by fracturing the very industry that they are trying to repress, we severely limit our ability to counter them. Our industry is too small to be fighting among ourselves. What is bad for one will in the long term, be bad for all.

  4. Good article. But pellet stoves create particulate concentrations that exceed the new safe dose for wood smoke particulates per EPA approved modeling of stoves by the ME DEP proportioned down to pellet stove emission factors by simple 4th grade math. 168 mcg,hr/m3, new and clean. 3 times that after 3 months from creosote. Background doses at about 480 mcg,hr/m3. The safe dose is 180 mcg,hr/m3. Common law referenced by the constitution says "Safety is the Supreme Law".

    Time for computer controlled air fuel ratios, and electrostatic precipitators to make wood energy equipment like oil furnaces. Health threats, climate problems, and mercury problems require care for neighbors and the garden earth according to the Golden Rule also included wisely in common law. This is pretty basic morality taught by almost all religions.

    Ernest Grolimund, retired engineer