Friday, January 31, 2020

Correspondence on HPBA policy on calculating efficiency for the IRS tax credit

After the $300 tax credit was extended to Dec. 31, 2020, AGH began seeing a number of manufacturers issues certificates statements claiming stoves from as low as 59% efficient were eligible for the tax credit. We were not as concerned with any claims of stoves between 70 - 75% efficiency as that could be explained by using lower heating value (LHV).  Our concern was with the many stoves between 59 and 69%.

As is our practice, we first contact companies to clarify what may be an error or a misunderstanding and we were told by one major manufacturer that HPBA had advised manufacturers that they could use a single efficiency number from a single burn rate, rather than using the average efficiency from all four burn rates. We then wrote to HPBA to confirm this.

HPBA published a letter they sent to us on their blog, claiming we posted incorrect information on our blog about the tax credit. They were correct that one sentence was misleading and we immediately changed it (our readers often suggest changes and we often make them).

We took this opportunity to post our communication to HPBA, which gives a flavor of scores of similar back and forths between AGH and HPBA over scores of issues where we have differences.  AGH is also an HPBA member and we have always worked to improve the functioning of the association.

Excerpt of a Jan. 17, 2020 email sent by John Ackerly to Jack Goldman, John Crouch and Rachel Feinstein of the HPBA

I would strongly request that you urge manufacturers to only use their average efficiency from certification testing to determine eligibility for the federal tax credit. While I don't believe there is any legal basis for using LHV, I realize that is a non-starter so I would at least urge you to tell manufacturers not to cherry pick from the efficiency of a single burn rate. Currently, there are a number of manufacturers claiming stoves that are below 70% efficient and at least one that is listed by the EPA at 66% efficient. Some manufacturer defend using an efficiency from a low burn rate saying that is where most customers use their stove (which also happens to be the most likely burn rate to smolder). And at least one says that HPBA provided guidance saying that it was acceptable to choose which burn rate had the highest efficiency. Enabling companies to mislead consumers into thinking they are buying a 75% efficient stove is bad policy for a trade group. Please help create an atmosphere where consumers are steered towards stoves that are at least 70% efficient, HHV.

Excerpt of an email from John Ackerly to Jack Goldman on Jan. 28, 2020

Thanks again for your reply last Friday…. As for the efficiency calculation, I will reach out to Rachel for a quote. As I said, I'm wondering if HPBA has any position - and it seems not - on whether manufacturers should use any common way of determining efficiency. For example, should they only use the weighted average efficiency, or should they pick which ever burn rate is best? The "law" doesn't stipulate some of the finer points for other appliances and that is where trade associations can help build or undermine consensus within their industry. I have been told by some manufacturers that they were advised by HPBA that using an efficiency of a single burn rate was acceptable. I want to get HPBA on record about that, and for the reputation of our industry, I very much hope HPBA can distance itself from such shenanigans that mislead consumers and waste taxpayer dollars.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Blue Angel ecolabel requires wood stoves with automated air controls

Blue Angel, the German government equivalent of the US Energy Star label, approved a new eco-label for wood stoves that includes stoves with automated air control, “separating technologies” such as electrostatic precipitators and the ability to meet strict emission standards.

The Blue Angel label is also part of a trend that is exploring and adopting test procedures that more closely resembles how stoves are used in homes.  The label emerged in part from lessons learned by the BeReal initiative that involved extensive round-robin testing in multiple European countries. The Clean Heat initiative is promoting the label to help towns and cities to reduce air pollution.
Marius Wohler of BeReal presents
findings at Brookhaven National Lab
 in 2016

The label gives a boost to efforts by the Alliance for Green Heat which has worked with American state and federal agencies and American stove manufacturers to develop automated stove technology and bring them to the US market.

German Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze said in a press statement that "The Blue Angel standard for stoves for wood is a real step forward. The authorities can now take more effective action against particulate matter pollution, for example by only allowing the operation of stoves bearing the eco-label.”

Blue Angel says that cities and municipalities are introducing regional bans on conventional stoves (ban on the use of these stoves and ban on installing these devices in new housing developments) but there would be exceptions for those appliances holding the Blue Angel label. The city of Berlin has expressed interest in using the ecolabel.

Maria Krautzberger, President of the Federal Environment Agency said “With the Blue Angel requirements that have now been decided upon, we are showing that it is possible to go even further [to make wood stoves clean]. This boosts innovation in the industry, gives guidance to consumers and is good for our air".
SBI won an award for their automated
stove design and will be launching a series
of automated stoves in North America

The label is voluntary for manufacturers, as a number of other European eco-labels, but this one is stricter than others. Several European countries have developed eco-labels for wood stoves with varying degrees of success. The US Energy Star program has never covered wood stoves and US stove industry blocked an initiative by Washington State to explore a state-led label. The Alliance for Green Heat has been an advocate for ecolabels and urges stakeholders in the US to revisit the idea.

It is not yet known how many stoves will qualify for the label over the coming months and years, and how well they will work in the field. Automated stoves gained some visibility in the United States through the Wood Stove Design Challenge and subsequently the Department of Energy provided $3 million in funding for automated stove R&D in 2019 and are now offering an additional $5 million in 2020.

Electrostatic precipitators (ESPs) have long been used in commercial wood burning applications, and their use in residential applications has grown rapidly in Europe. In the US, an initiative in Alaska is using ESPs, and is hoping a review by the EPA will determine that change out funding can be used on a wider scale to install ESPs on wood stoves.  As prices come down under $2,000 the cost of adding an ESP may result in far more PM reductions than replacing an old stove.
This ESP made by Swiss
company Oekosolve was
also showcased by AGH
in Wash. DC in 2018.

Excerpts of the details of the Blue Angel label are reproduced below. The full criteria can be found here.

Excerpts

The environmental label may be awarded to stoves that use the fuel … in an efficient manner and have significantly lower pollutant emissions. In addition to the statutory regulations for the type testing process [lab testing of a sample stove] for the stoves, the special requirements stipulated by the Blue Angel mean that stoves have to comply with significantly lower particulate and CO limit values and this must also be verified during the ignition [start-up] phase that involves a particularly high level of emissions. In the case of organic gaseous carbon (OGC) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), emissions of these substances must already be below the limits defined in the EU Ecodesign requirements that will be generally applicable from January 2022.

When purchasing a new innovative stove, the environmental label will thus act as a decision- making aid for the reduction of air pollutants. It is a voluntary label that is designed to motivate manufacturers to develop efficient and low- emission heating appliances. The label will allow manufacturers to highlight the environmental benefits offered by their heating appliance in a simple way.

Therefore, the following benefits for the environment and health are stated in the explanatory box:

3.1 Emission requirements

Stoves, where relevant in combination with an integrated or downstream particle separator, must comply with the maximum limits stated in Table 1, Column 3 for the particle content, carbon monoxide (CO), organic gaseous carbon (OGC) and nitrogen oxides (NOx).

The particle count concentration must be determined (see Appendix C for the measurement method). In addition, the limit for the particle count concentration stated in Table 1, Column 3 must also be observed from 01/01/2022.

The requirements can be complied with in two ways:

1. a) Testing the overall system

The requirements will have been fulfilled if the mean values from the individual measurements described in Appendix B that were carried out on the tested stove, including all of the intended fixtures and attachments, do not exceed the relevant limits specified in Table 1, Column 3.

Spare parts are those parts which, typically, may develop a fault within the scope of the ordinary use of a product. Whereas those parts which normally exceed the life of the product are not to be considered as spare parts.

2. b) In combination with an efficient particle separator

§ The requirements will have been fulfilled if the mean values from the individual measurements described in Appendix B that were carried out on the stove do not exceed the relevant limits specified in Table 1, Column 4 and the stove is sold and installed together with a particle separator. For particle separators, a minimum separating efficiency of 75% of the particle mass and (from 01/01/2022) 90% of the particle count must be verified. The limit value in Table 1, Column 3 must be complied with reliably when taking into account the separating efficiency.

§ If a particle separator for which this minimum separating efficiency has been verified is already integrated into a chimney, the manufacturer can also sell the stove without the separator. The fact that the stove must be installed together with the associated particle separator that is integrated into the chimney must be indicated during the sale of the product and also in the installation instructions. The particle separator integrated into the chimney must already have been named and tested when submitting the application for the stove.

The measurement of the flue gas temperature, the flue gas sampling process and the measurement of the static pressure for the stove must be completed in a measurement circuit according to DIN EN 16510-1:2018-01 (D), Section A.2.3 as well as Diagrams 13 and 14 of this standard.

The measurement uncertainty stated in the test method is neither added nor subtracted.

3.11 Future revision of the environmental label

Furthermore, the revision will examine whether the applicant can offer a 5-year guarantee for the secondary reduction technology if it is sold in combination with the stove. 
To determine the particle count emissions from stoves, it has only been possible up to now to evaluate individual test results using the methods described in Appendix C. Round robin tests that could be used as the basis for defining a limit for the particle count emissions from the stove have not been available. 

Nevertheless, the measurement of the particle count in accordance with the new methods is being introduced as an obligatory requirement. Due to the unavailability of round robin tests, it is necessary to allow a transition period for the introduction of the particle count limit. Compliance with the particle count limit will be obligatory for the award of the Blue Angel from 01/01/2022. 

3.4 Air regulation

To ensure that the user has as little influence over the emissions as possible, it is not permitted for the air supply to be manually adjustable during intended operation. This is usually achieved through the automatic regulation of the air supply.

3.5 Combustion monitor

A display must be provided for the user to indicate any deviation from the optimal operating state and to request that the user stokes the fire with wood.

3.8.1 Repairability and provision of spare parts

The stove must be designed so that it can be repaired by replacing individual parts that are no longer working. The applicant undertakes to guarantee the provision of spare parts for the repair of the appliances for at least 10 years following the termination of production.

The product documentation must include information about the repairability and the guaranteed supply of spare parts.

3.8.2 Recyclable design

In terms of the recyclable design of those appliances issued with the environmental label, the following is valid:

· The appliances must be designed in such a way that they can be dismantled and separated into recyclable materials by specialist companies using standard tools or that this process is simplified by intelligently designed connections.

· The appliances must be designed so that it is possible to separate metals into single materials and, where possible, recycle them separately.

3.10.3 Quick user guide

· In addition, another guide covering a maximum of two pages must be provided that includes the most important instructions for the fuel to be used (size of the pieces, max. water content, quantity) for the ignition process, controlling the air flow, stoking the fire and cleaning/maintenance in a clearly visible and easy to understand form. This quick user guide must be permanently legible and abrasion-resistant and must not suffer from discolouration during normal use.

· The instructions must include easy to understand illustrations

5. Use of the Environmental Label

The use of the Environmental Label by the applicant is governed by a contract on the use of the Environmental Label concluded with RAL gGmbH.

Contracts on the Use of the Environmental Label are concluded to fix the terms for the certification of products under Paragraph 2. Such contracts shall run until December 31, 2023. They shall be extended by periods of one year each, unless terminated in writing by March 31, 2023 or March 31 of the respective year of extension.

Monday, January 13, 2020

EPA fines stove retailer, pursues informal enforcement with many others

In 2019, the EPA issued a $8,250 fine to a Seattle based company, Keller Supply Company,  for selling five uncertified residential wood stoves in Alaska, California, Oregon and Washington. That appears to be the only formal enforcement action in recent years amid an ongoing effort by the EPA to ensure the wood heater regulations are followed.

Almost all of the recent efforts of the EPA enforcement office fall under the term “informal enforcement,” consisting of phone calls, emails, on site visits and other communications that regularly result in corrective measures that bring manufacturers and retailers into compliance.   

In some cases, companies put uncertified stoves on the U.S. market, in violation of the EPA
The uncertified Lion pellet stove has
on the market for up to a year.
requirement that all residential wood and pellet stoves be certified by an EPA approved lab.  One example is Lion Energy, who has been importing a small pellet stove from China since at least March of 2019.  The Lion Pellet Heater is listed at $699 on the company’s website and is also sold by many online retailers for lower prices.  Amazon sold it for several months but their page on the product now says “currently unavailable.”  The stove has five reviews on Amazon including one that gave the stove one out of five stars and said, “This stove doesn’t appear to be state certified and our homeowners insurance will cancel us if we use this stove.”  

This uncertified Wanme stove is made
 in China and available to import to
the US.
The EPA office of enforcement has known about the Lion stove since at least August of 2019. The Lion Pellet Heater is the cheapest pellet stove on the US market, undercutting manufacturers who follow EPA regulations and still available from many online retailers, including the importer, Lion Energy, based in Utah.  A representative of the company told AGH that they had not heard about this issue before.  Emails to the company’s owners have not been answered.

Another pellet stove that appears to be uncertified under the name Wanme was being sold on internet sites for many months.  The online retail giant Wayfair recently removed the stove after being contacted by the Alliance for Green Heat.  However, it may still be on the market via smaller internet retailers.
Uncertified products were often
adverstised as using wood and coal after
the 2015 regulations took effect, requiring
certification for stoves using wood.

In December 2019, on a conference call with staff from the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA), the Alliance for Green Heat urged the EPA to do more to make public their enforcement activity and assure stakeholders that it was following up on tips and infractions.  EPA staff relayed instances of numerous site visits and interactions with manufacturers and retailers in 2018 and 2019 that led to changes in advertising and other activities.  EPA staff explained that the EPA actively sends emails and make phone calls to manufacturers, retailers and test labs when deficiencies are identified through audits or public complaints/tips.  They also send non-compliance letters.

Tips from industry and the public resulted in scrutiny of and changes by several companies who were
Some fireplaces were advertised as "EPA
compliant" and having greater heating
capacities than many certified
wood stoves.
advertising fireplaces as heater-rated wood stoves in 2019 or uncertified stoves that could use wood or coal.  Under EPA regulations, any stove that advertises wood as a fuel must be certified.  Companies were also asked not to display the full barrel stove, when only certain parts of it were being sold.

The EPA confirmed that it had sent out what is known as “Section 114 letters,” to five or six wood heater manufacturers in 2016.   Section 114 of the Clean Air Act allow EPA to require regulated entities to submit information on a one-time basis.  It is not clear if or when the content of those letters and the responses would be public or could be through a Freedom of Information Action (FOIA) request.  However, letter requests to collect information that can be used in a potential rulemaking, investigation or enforcement action. Many of the submissions often end up being used by third parties in litigation. Responding to these requests can require the recipient to conduct testing and generate new data.


The Alliance for Green Heat often posts examples of misleading adverstisements in our free monthly e-newsletter.  If you are concerned about an enforcement issue with residential wood heaters, you can contact Rafael Sanchez at the EPA's Office of Enforcement at Sanchez.Rafael@epa.gov.