Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Comment on Massachusetts's H.3183 / S.2115, "An Act relative to the electrification of new and substantially remodeled or rehabilitated building,"

 AGH recently submitted another comment on proposed legislation in Massachusetts. "An Act relative to the electrification of new and substantially remodeled or rehabilitated building," (H.3183 / S. 2115) aims to establish a law requiring that "all newly constructed commercial buildings and substantially remodeled or rehabilitated commercial buildings and newly constructed buildings and substantially remodeled or rehabilitated buildings containing a residential dwelling unit shall use electricity instead of fossil fuels for space heating and cooling; cooking; and clothes drying; and, in the case of hot water, including for pools and spas, shall use electricity or thermal solar."

AGH is part of a coalition on non-profits, businesses and forest owners led by Chris Egan at the Massachusetts Forest Alliance who support modern wood heating systems.

Read below for the full comment: 

"Chairs Barrett and Roy:

The Alliance for Green Heat supports H.3183 / S.2115, "An Act relative to the electrification of new and substantially remodeled or rehabilitated building," provided that modern wood heating will not be excluded as a viable low carbon, renewable heating option in newly constructed or substantially remodeled residential dwelling units. Modern wood stoves play a highly beneficial role in the rural electrification movement because they are a preferred back-up heat for many people, giving households the confidence to install electric technologies like heat pumps.

Massachusetts is no stranger to electrical power outages. Earlier this year, the state experienced a brutal polar vortex. In the midst of dangerous, record cold, temperatures, a peak number of 60,000 households experienced power outages (Mass Live 2023).

Due to our changing climate, extreme winter events are set to increase (Union of Concerned Scientists 2023). In the inevitable moment when a household's heat pump could not run, wood stoves could provide essential heating for the hours or days that an electrical outage would drag on. This is particularly important for lower-income rural households. While the smoke from wood stoves can be problematic, pellet stoves offer a far cleaner and more efficient option, and they can easily run on a back-up battery. For homes that want to be as close to off-grid as possible, pellet stoves also draw very little energy compared to heat pumps.

We would like to commend the work that Massachusetts is attempting to carry out in order to promote the energy transition through H.3183 / S. 2115. But we urge the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy to take into account that modern wood heating as a technology has the potential to quell concerns over electrical outages for Massachusettsans as the state moves toward a more sustainable and cleaner residential energy profile. We hope you support H.3183 / S.2115 and urge that you consider language that would not inadvertently eliminate modern wood heating usage in the state."


John Ackerly, President

Darian Dyer, Policy Analyst

Thursday, July 6, 2023

10 States sue the EPA to improve wood stoves, but the grounds are dubious

Old stoves removed during change out
programs range from ones like these ...
Ten states and one large air agency filed a notice that they intend to sue the EPA over its weak wood stove testing, certification and enforcement programs. The lawsuit is one of the only ways to keep the agency on the required timeline of updating its wood and pellet heater regulations every eight years. Otherwise, the agency can easily let timelines slip and put wood heater policies and regulations on the back burner as both Republican and Democratic administrations have usually done.

The Alliance for Green Heat (AGH) supports the lawsuit for these reasons: EPA needs to keep focused on this technology and keep doing the testing that can get better test methods and stoves that operate better in the hands of the consumer. Automated wood stoves that use sensors, computer chips and actuators to mix the fuel and the air, like in cars, probably offer the best hope for cleaning up wood stoves. But they may be left out of the next updated regulations, known as New Source Performance Standards (NSPS).

... to stoves that are decrepid
and/or dangerously self-installed
However, AGH does not agree with much of the faulty narrative that says new stoves are not likely to be cleaner than old stoves. And maybe most worrisome is that the AGs of so many states appear willing to make such claims without citing data to support it. 

Unlike the dynamic around auto emissions, where car manufacturers are pitted against the EPA, in this case all fingers are pointed at the EPA for being too lax. The EPA’s wood heater program has had huge weaknesses and it is an easy target. But it is important to understand that the EPA is not a monolith, and it is the wood heater certification and enforcement programs in Washington that are far more of a problem than the section in North Carolina that does the test methods and change out programs.  

One of the many problems with the filing by 10 state Attorney Generals (AG) is that it is mainly based on a review of the EPA’s certification program done by the State of Alaska and Northeast   States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM), with funding from New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). It is not based on testing of new stoves in the field compared to old, uncertified stoves in the field. The narrative that the EPA has been wasting money on change-outs because new stoves aren’t necessarily cleaner than old ones seems to be gaining traction despite evidence to the contrary. Moreover, it distracts from the real, complex tasks at hand and is divisive. As a public relations strategy, it has been successful, gets good media coverage and rallies liberals.

The reality is far more complex. Ironically, it also misses what blue states care about: maximizing renewable energy in smart ways and creating more equity in the energy transition. Starting with the NESCAUM report, pellet appliances have been sidelined from the narrative and they are not even mentioned at a time when much of America is confused about the difference between premium heating pellets and industrial pellets to make electricity. If wood and pellet stoves are to play a role at helping the US reduce residential fossil fuel and protecting low to moderate income (LMI) households from the high costs of the new energy paradigm, it is vital for AG offices to understand the role of the technology in America. 

The Notice to Sue, likely leading to a lawsuit can be good for our common goals of getting cleaner wood stoves, but AG offices need to understand some things. First, we don’t need a new NSPS before we have new test methods. (One of NESCAUM’s many roles is providing data for new test methods, but compared to other labs, NESCAUM’s lab is way behind schedule, which complicates the whole timeline.) Second, the goal of getting better repeatability of a test result within a lab and between labs does not necessarily lead to a cleaner stove in the hands of homeowners. Third, tilting scales toward hybrid stoves may help in the short run, but is not necessarily a long-term or nationwide solution. Fourth, there has never been much agreement on what constitutes the best systems of emission reduction (BSR) in stoves which hinders the EPA in writing regulations that can force technology to change and improve. 

Wood and pellet heaters can help the nation in our transition to electrification by giving homeowners a back-up heating source, lowering stress on the grid during wintertime and providing LMI households protection from rising electricity costs which helps achieve equity. And environmental justice is improved in poor communities not just by a reduction in woodsmoke but also by improving energy security so that homes do not have to choose between heating and eating. For low-income households, change-out programs have been very important by removing unsafe stoves that pose a fire risk, improving not just ambient particulate matter (PM) and indoor PM, and adding heat pumps to many homes. 

The next NSPS will be best served by an EPA with the budget that enables them to collect their own data and properly manage the certification and enforcement programs, which are still far from effective. Underfunding leaves the EPA vulnerable to just reacting to one side or the other, and making poor decisions like revoking a cordwood test method that should have been changed and improved instead. That revocation was also prompted by the same group of states, most of which lack the expertise to understand the complexities and the politics of such a move. Tightening up that test method would have helped the EPA gather vital data it needs for this NSPS and not rely on data from parties who are sparring for an upper hand in the process.

The mostly blue states leading this lawsuit also need to manage wood and pellet heating far better in their own borders, as all states do. Vermont is a good model which is also heavily promoting heat pumps. States should be promoting pellet stoves and boilers and demanding stricter PM limits for those appliances. They should also limit the new installation of cord wood stoves in densely inhabited areas unless, or until, automation and mini-electrostatic precipitators can make cordwood units far cleaner. While cordwood stoves are essential for rural LMI households and help them get off fossil fuels, manually operated wood stoves are simply not a good energy solution where lots of homes are close together, particularly when the topography leads to frequent inversions, trapping PM close the ground where we breathe. 

As for the solution to reduce wood smoke in Fairbanks, even Albert Einstein would be scratching his head. Managers of that change-out program have done an admirable job and used many different strategies. They also uncovered huge problems in the EPA’s stove certification program which were hiding in plain sight. But we should not expect the next NSPS to make much of a dent in that intractable problem. 

Nationally, the solution lies in far more funding for R&D in stove technology, more attention to enforcement of current regulations, more experts for state AGs to rely on and collaboration. Like many big energy issues, the solutions are multi-faceted and rely on a collaborative approach by stakeholders. We should take this lawsuit as a wake-up call.

Monday, July 3, 2023

AGH urges IECC to keep residential wood heaters in building code

On Friday, AGH submitted a proposal for the 2024 Residential Section of the International Energy
Conservation Code. The International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) is the most commonly adopted system in the U.S. and covers about 80 percent of the nation’s population. It is up to states and counties to adopt the IECC and they can do so with amendments. The code is a relative newcomer, gaining traction since the 1990s because it can be easily implemented by architects and builders and provides consistency. Its updated every three years and committees are now working on changes for the 2024 version. Codes set the minimum requirements for energy-efficient building design and construction and impact energy use over the life of the buildings. Building energy codes are developed through consensus-based public processes and are supposed to reflect what is technologically feasible and economically justified energy efficiency measures. Assuring the cost effectiveness of model code changes also encourages their adoption and implementation at the state and local levels.

There are no official proposal right now to take biomass out of the residential energy code's definition of "renewable energy resources," but code committees have tried and there is a proposal to effectively remove biomass out of the commercial energy code. AGH signed on as a co-proponent in opposition to this removal along with a long list of institutions such as the Maryland Clean Energy Center, USDA Forest Service, and the Massachusetts Forest Alliance. Instead, our proposal was submitted as preventative comment to shore up support for keeping biomass in the definition of "renewable energy resources" in the residential sector.

See our official proposal below:

"SECTION R202 GENERAL DEFINITIONS. “RENEWABLE ENERGY RESOURCES. Energy derived from solar radiation, wind, waves, tides, landfill gas, biogas, biomass or extracted from hot fluid or steam heated within the earth.” Should Remain Unchanged.


1. Removing woody biomass inordinately harms rural LMI and tribal households.

A proposal to change the definition of renewable energy resources by removing biomass will have a disproportionate impact on rural low-to-middle income (LMI) and tribal households. Wood or pellet heating systems are usually put in existing homes, not during new construction but there are many cases when rural homes, off-grid homes, or new native American homes need to include wood heaters in new construction.

Some homes need to be built with wood stoves not by choice, but by necessity, such as in tribal areas, where affordable heating options are few. At the end of the spectrum can be expensive homes are “net zero” homes that are on or off the grid, and who need non-electric heat because their renewable electricity supply and/battery storage can’t provide sufficient energy. Many people want to pair a wood or pellet stove with solar panels, heat pumps and home batteries because heat from a wood or pellet stove complements other renewable technologies. Heat pumps draw too much energy to be powered by most solar panel arrays in the coldest months of the year.

Wood heat help reduce electric demand during the early evening
reducing peak load stress.

2. Wood and pellet heaters are essential to the growth of electrification in America.

Electrifying heat is the future and should be incentivized and promoted as much as possible. However, in rural areas, where households experience more frequent and longer electricity outages than in urban and suburban areas, people want back-up heat. Having a wood stove or a pellet stove (with a battery pack) gives many households the confidence to install heat pumps or even go fully electric. The state of Vermont officially recommends having a back-up source of heat with heat pumps and specifically mentions that wood stoves are a good option. In the future, we expect many homes that use wood stoves as their primary heat source will be willing to switch to heat pumps as long as electricity prices remain stable and do not rise too much. These homes will still want a wood stove for both secondary and emergency back-up heat. Keeping biomass within the definition of renewable energy resources will make this connection undeniable.

Heat pumps outsold gas furnaces as of last year and will only gain larger shares of the market.

3. The proposal suggesting the removal of biomass from renewable energy resources is confusing, flawed, and shows a lack of understanding of current practices.

Many concerned with keeping biomass within the renewable energy resources definition appear to be reacting, in part, to news about harvesting practices for industrial pellets that are shipped to Europe for electricity production. This mistake was reinforced by comments made by committee members in a previous meeting when some in the committee tried to remove woody biomass.

The source of firewood for residential heating in America is easy to understand. Firewood is available all around us. Much of it is free for the taking from anywhere to downed trees that litter roads and neighborhoods after storms, from regular tree trimming and tree removal operations, and from firewood dealers. Many firewood dealers themselves are tree trimmers trying to make additional income from trees they were hired to remove. Firewood also comes from thousands of small firewood retailers, many of whom cut live trees from their own plots of land, or as part of a commercial timber harvest.

4. The IECC should be as applicable in climactic Zones 5, 6, 7, and 8 as it is in warmer areas.

Climactic zones 5, 6, 7, and 8 present unique challenges for wintertime heating technologies, particularly for LMI households. Heat pumps are effective in all climactic zones, but they can get very expensive in the coldest months and years and will always be more expensive than gathered wood.  Wood and pellet heaters are ubiquitous in many rural areas in the coldest parts of our country. We hope the committee has a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion at the committee level the diversity to understand the levels of poverty and economic stress on many families in the coldest areas.  Many need to choose between heating and eating needs.

5. Woody biomass is consistent with the goals of the IECC.

An important goal of the IECCC is “safe, technologically feasible, and life cycle cost effective, considering economic feasibility, including potential costs and savings for consumers and building owners, and return on investment.” Woody biomass is widespread in the U.S. because it is affordable and technologically feasible. It is generally safe when units are installed by professionals and maintained properly. Like other household systems, lack of replacement, repair and cleaning can lead to unsafe conditions.

Cost Impact:

The code change proposal will neither increase nor decrease the cost of construction."