By Maura Adams

“Oil prices are low.”

“There’s more interest in heat pumps.”

“We’ve seen a lot of misinformation in the press.”

We hear statements like these all the time in the Northeast to explain why Automated Wood Heating systems haven’t taken off like they should. But this time I wasn’t in Montpelier, VT, or Augusta, Maine, I was in Upper Austria: the birthplace of wood pellet boilers, where everyone knew about Automated Wood Heat, everyone celebrated it, and sales were stable and seamless—or so we thought. After all, 35% of dwellings in Upper Austria are heated with wood (including district heating) and wood pellet boilers are common in other parts of Europe as well.

Learning that the Europeans have experienced problems similar to ours was disappointing. On one hand, if they’re so far ahead of us and still facing these challenges, how can we expect to overcome them? On the other, it affirmed that our Automated Wood Heat market can still develop, even in the face of challenges.

By: Rob Riley

Last fall, I attended a rural development conversation in Danville, Virginia. It was one of those rare opportunities where the invite-only event seemed to mirror the conversations we were having at the Center about our continued evolution and how we could be most effective serving the communities of the Northern Forest. 

Organizations at this conference hailed from communities with much larger populations, significant built environments, strong organizational and public capacity, and engaged leadership. However, these places—labeled by some as “micropolitans”—are facing problems similar to the ones we face in the Northern Forest region: loss of young people, a general concern about the lack (or sustainability) of growth, and ability to equitably distribute wealth throughout a given community. Attendees were eager to discuss millennials, winning strategies and new forms of investment.

One theme that emerged quickly for me—and was striking—was how seemingly disconnected these communities were from their surrounding natural landscape. Other than citing a river that ran through the city, little was said about the natural amenities that differentiated that place from others. It became very apparent that the communities of the Northern Forest and our emerging approach to community development is quite unique. Our core emphasis is on how to capitalize on the unique natural assets and stewardship of those assets when seeking to drive population and business growth. 

By: Maura Adams

AWH micro TM RGB orange dotThat’s the catchy line we’re using in a campaign we’ve just launched to turn this wonderful-but-obscure technology into a well-known and much-used way to heat buildings across the Northern Forest.

We’ve worked for months with other nonprofits, state agencies, heating system companies and pellet producers to create www.feelgoodheat.org and a marketing campaign to spread the word about Automated Wood Heat. The website tells stories about the people behind Automated Wood Heat and features a fun animation as well as FAQs and contact information for consumers.

The Feel Good Heat campaign marks a turning point in the Northern Forest Center’s strategy for promoting wood heat. For the last five years, we focused on investing financial incentives and technical assistance to get great examples of Automated Wood Heat into Northern Forest homes, businesses, and municipal buildings—and it worked!

Warm Tech illustrations Truck CMYK webWe’ve assisted with more than 150 installations, primarily in clusters we call Model Neighborhood Projects. Together those projects have generated over $2.8 million in economic impact and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 3,500 tons. Property owners considering Automated Wood Heat anywhere in the Northern Forest can see installations near them, feel confident that they can get bulk delivery of pellets, and take advantage of state incentives for these heating systems.

This base of early adopters is essential to prove how well Automated Wood Heat works, but we wanted to scale up use of this technology beyond what we could possibly achieve through the limits of our financial incentives, so we steered our strategy toward marketing.

By: Jessica O'Hare

olympic medalWe’ve cheered on a strong showing of Northern Forest athletes in PyeongChang at the Winter Olympic Games. It’s hard to track down exact numbers, but if you count hometowns, training locations and other connections to the Northern Forest, it's clear that the region turns out great athletes.

We’ve got Chris Mazdzer, Erin Hamlin, Justin Krewson and Erin Sweeney from upstate New York competing in the luge. Troy Murphy competed in freestyle skiing, after Bethel, Maine residents, schools and businesses fundraised to get their hometown hero to the Games. Mikeala Shiffrin, who learned her downhill racing technique at Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont, took home the gold medal in giant slalom. Susan Dunklee from Vermont and Lowell Bailey from Lake Placid, NY competed for medals in the biathlon. Sophie Caldwell from Vermont competed on the women’s cross-country events. There are more incredible athletes to list, but you can see what we mean. 

The Northern Forest has great mountains and world-class training venues, like Lake Placid, NY—host of the 1980 Olympics—Fort Kent (Maine) Outdoor Center, and Craftsbury (VT) Outdoor Center, and ski schools like Burke Mountain and Stratton Mountain School that draw premiere young athletes. Winter is part of life in the Northern Forest, so it makes sense that that people here love to ski, skate and sled, competitively or just for fun. Our easy access to recreational opportunities contributes to our quality of life. 

Karen Crouse of the New York Times, joined a Vermont radio show and offered: "You move to Norwich[, VT], because you don't need the big urban center, you love the outdoors." She argues that a collective value system builds a philosophy that is based in sports, and forms lasting friendships and a love of the game. "It's about life lessons and skill sets that will help you in your life after sports," she said.

That rationale applies to Northern Forest communities from Lake Placid to Aroostook County. Plattsburgh, NY; Canton, NY; Bethel, ME; Burke, VT are all hometowns of current Olympians, 20 of whom list communities in the states of the Northern Forest as their hometowns. 36 if you count all of New York state.  

We think the region’s wide-ranging outdoor opportunities—summer and winter—make it a great place to raise a family or achieve that elusive work-life balance. We’re working with several communities to help them make the most of their outdoor attractions and establish themselves as vibrant communities for young families and entrepreneurs who want that lifestyle.  

Cross-country skiing through the woods on your lunch break sounds pretty good to us. And who knows, you might see a few Olympic racers while you’re out there!