Monday, May 19, 2014

Best Practices in Change Out Programs (and Why Some Programs Underperform)

Nov. 2016 update: An updated list of "best practices" for stove change-out programs is available here.

Change-out programs are now commonplace in the wood stove community, particularly in the Northwest, with Libby, MT being the highest profile one.  In Libby and elsewhere, changing out old uncertified stoves to new EPA certified stoves has demonstrably contributed to cleaner air quality.  Typically, wood stove change-out programs start with government funding, and then leverage in-kind donations from wood stove manufacturers, stove retailers and others. 

However, change-out programs sometimes provide fewer air quality benefits than expected.  And, per ton of particulate matter removed from the environment, they can be very expensive.  Raw numbers from Washington State based on money they spent versus estimated emission reduction came to nearly $50,000 per ton of particulate.  When Washington State uses the EPA methodology for calculating cost per ton, the mean cost was between $14,000 and $19,000 per ton

In addition to the classic change out program designed to reduce excessive smoke in particular town, valley or region, change out programs can simply help rural households more efficiently use a local renewable energy source.  Also, manufacturers and retailers can undertake them in the slow, summer season.

In assessing the effectiveness of change-out programs, the Alliance for Green Heat found a lack of rigorous analysis or debate about how to best achieve air quality improvements. Some states are starting to develop more innovative features in incentive programs instead of following the pattern set by the EPA and HPBA. Here are eight strategies that will improve change out programs.  Virtually none of these strategies, that many consider key parts of change outs, can be found on the EPA or HPBA change out pages.  Expect push back from local government agencies, HPBA and/or retailers on some of these points, but all of them are becoming more and more accepted.

1. Controlling future installations of uncertified appliances
Too many change out programs occur in places were people are still allowed to install old, second hand stoves or even unqualified outdoor boilers.  Reports touting the success of change-outs in Pennsylvania, Indiana and the Great Lakes states don’t even mention that while old stoves are being removed, traditional outdoor wood boilers are being installed in the very same communities.  In Vermont and Keene, NH, more uncertified wood stoves may have been installed since their programs ended than were removed.  Before spending limited dollars on change-outs, funds should be focused in areas where the locality has enough commitment to clean air to stipulate that old, uncertified stoves and unqualified outdoor boilers cannot be installed in the future.

2.  Prioritize which stoves get changed out first
We believe that some programs inappropriately used a first-come, first-served approach when stoves used as a primary of sole heating source in more densely populated areas could have been targeted first.  While this does not apply to valleys with inversions like Libby, where every stove is equally important, in places like Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire, where funds can run out quickly, stoves in the middle of towns which are used as a primary heating device should be given priority.  Some new epidemiology research is coming out saying that stove change-outs do not necessarily improve indoor air quality and the main benefit is to improve outdoor air quality that impacts the community at-large.  In change-outs that cover multi-county areas, or even statewide, as in Vermont's program, we think focusing on stoves in towns is warranted.  Last priority should be stoves in isolated houses that only use wood as a secondary heat source.  Fairbanks may be the best example of effective prioritizing based on location instead of using a first-come, first-serve model.  A related best practice that has been implemented by HPBA, EPA and others is giving priority or higher rebates to low income households. While this is a practical necessity in order for them to participate, it also helps the program ensure that they are getting more stoves that are primary heating appliance of the house.
3.  Focus on wood, not just stoves
Some experts are now wondering if a $150 rebate to help build a wood shed to keep wood dry may produce similar air quality results as a $1,000 rebate for a stove.  It’s well known that the equipment is only half the battle, and the other half is the fuel and the operator.  Requiring firewood dealers to bring a moisture meter when delivering wood and writing down moisture content on the sales receipt may also be a good strategy. Change out programs could prioritize homes with woodsheds, to help ensure that subsidizing a new stove will result in reduced smoke from the home.  Or homes with woodsheds could receive a higher rebate, which incentivizes proper storage and educates people about its importance.

4. Right-size the rebate and require partial payment
When rebates disappear in a few hours or even a few weeks, it likely means the rebate was too generous and a lesser rebate could have resulted in more change outs.  Also, rather than provided a fixed amount, programs that provide 50% or even 35% of the new stove should be considered, where possible.  When smaller, more targeted populations are involved like Keene, NH, larger rebates are required, as they also are with low-income populations.

5. Require that new stoves meet stricter emissions and efficiency standards
Almost all change-out programs now require that the new EPA certified stove be 4.5 grams or less, but some are starting to require 3 or 2.5 grams an hour or less. Pellet stoves, which operate in the field much more like they did in the testing lab than wood stoves, should be held to 2.5 or 2 grams an hour at the most.  Some states, with varying degrees of success, are starting to experiment with minimum efficiency requirements and this is likely to be a standard requirement sometime in 2015.  Oregon provides a greater rebate level for stoves made by companies who agree to share verified efficiencies with their customers.  Most stove manufacturers will not release this information, preferring to use unverified and often exaggerated numbers.  Maryland requires a maximum of 3 grams for wood stoves and 2 for pellets. (The Maryland program is a renewable energy program and does not require the change out of an old stove, but about half the old stoves are disabled and destroyed anyway.)

6. Require both wood and pellet stoves be EPA certified
Few programs have required that pellet stoves be EPA certified although there are substantial benefits of this.  EPA certified pellet stoves are usually more efficient than their exempt counterparts because exempt pellet stoves often use the 35 to 1 air to fuel ratio loophole to avoid certification but all that air reduces efficiency.  Some pellet stoves are as low as 40% efficient, and many are in the 50s and 60s, when they easily can be in the 70s.  Households should not be unwittingly subsidized to buy a low-efficiency pellet stove that will saddle them with much higher fuel costs for years to come.  Unfortunately, large and small pellet stove manufacturers currently self-report efficiencies and are notoriously adept at exaggerating and inflating their efficiency numbers.  The EPA and DOE have done little to counteract this and have at times contributed to the problem.

7. Integrate wood stove inspections in energy audit process
If your state is particularly interested in retiring older stoves, it is important that state subsidized energy audits require that the auditor inspect the wood stove, just like they check other HVAC equipment.  Auditors can educate homeowners about the importance of upgrading to safer, more efficient equipment, spot dangerous installations, assist in removing dangerous stoves and sometimes help get stove upgrades to be subsidized through low interest loans or other programs.  The Building Performance Institute (BPI) is taking the lead to develop guidelines for energy auditors to inspect wood stoves.  In recent years, energy auditors have failed to include wood stoves in hundreds of thousands of homes.

8. Ensure big box stores are included in the program
As long as professional installation is being required in a change out or incentive program, including stoves from big box stores can make funding go much further and enable more low and middle-income households to participate.  Allowing purchases from hardware chain stores can make all the difference for lower income families to trade out that old stove and afford a new one.  Good quality stoves can start at $700 and one of the most popular stoves in the country sells for $900.  Professional installation can be done by CSIA accredited chimney sweeps if local NFI trained staff at specialty hearth stores will only install their own products.  Especially if larger rebates are not provided to low-income families, this is a vital way to help them overcome high upfront costs and help stretch program funding and change out more stoves.

Based upon an informal survey of 10 change out programs, we found the average rebate for a new wood stove was $627 dollars, but ranged from $300 to $1,050 per stove and much more for low-income change outs. The median rebate was $670.  Nine out of the ten programs surveyed offered additional assistance to low -income applicants, and three out of ten offered full rebates.

Change out programs, depending on their size and scope, can cost a great deal of money to run and advertise. Buy back or bounty programs that just pay to remove stoves and do not replace them, are increasing in popularity and should be considered alongside change outs.  They are far cheaper, require much less administration, and can be run on a year round ongoing basis.  The average cost per change out varies greatly between programs. Libby, Montana had a large budget and was servicing a low-income population so the cost per stove was higher.  Pittsburgh program’s average cost was relatively low, at $770 per change out.   Higher costs per stove do not necessarily mean they were less efficiently run, as there are so many variables and so much need for costly educational programs that target homeowners who are not changing out stoves, but may be emitting a lot of excess smoke. 

[Afterward: Sylvia Shultz of Clean Air Fairbanks took issue with part of this blog and you can read her response here.]

Click for larger version.

No comments:

Post a Comment