Modern Wood Heat Blog
Automated Wood Heat Blog
Maura Adams, energy program director for the Northern Forest Center, blogs about Modern Wood Heat.
This has been a frustrating week. Maybe for the thousandth time, I’m reminded that fuel bills for most New Englanders are completely subject to the decisions made by far-away investors and global leaders, most of whom are radically disconnected from the people whose lives their actions intimately affect.
Whether it’s perceptions that “Saudi Arabia and Russia are having a strong and fruitful collaboration to keep the price of oil high and rising” from NPR or the president’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal causing oil prices to “swing wildly,” as CNN Money and others described the market on May 8, geopolitical events will keep people guessing about what will come next and how it will affect their ability to pay for heat and transportation.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Options for greater domestic energy independence are well within reach that can help insulate us from international events. And since the Northeast consumes the vast majority of the heating oil in the U.S., it’s especially important that we look for alternatives. Even so, the shift toward renewable heating – especially the high-efficiency, automated wood pellet boilers and furnaces the Northern Forest Center promotes—is slow.
High oil prices make automated wood heat more economically attractive, so it's good news for the wood heating industry that oil prices exceeded $70/barrel on May 7 for the first time since 2014. And yet, it’s infuriating to think about the struggling families, towns, farmers, loggers and small businesses that will all be hit hard by these higher fossil fuel prices.
Wood pellet heat is inherently local—it’s immediately tangible and accessible. Anyone northern New England or New York can see where their wood pellets come from over the course of an afternoon—moving from the forests that produce the wood, to the mills that process the pellets, to the local companies that deliver them. We can talk to landowners about their forest stewardship goals, hear from loggers about changes to the forest economy that have made their livelihood more precarious, watch harvests that foster long-term forest health, and, at the end of the day, feel proud when we heat with wood. You can’t do that with fossil fuels (nor would many of us want to hang out on, say, an oil field in the Middle East!).
By: Maura Adams
That’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!
We’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: Maura Adams
Peter Bourne stood at a lectern in Burlington recently, renewable energy leadership award in hand, and smiled. “I’m pretty sure this is the first time people at a climate change conference ever clapped for the owner of a fossil fuel company,” he said, and the crowd clapped even more, laughing in a moment of rare affinity with someone whose bread and butter is, after all, oil and propane sales.
But Bourne’s Energy – along with Sandri in Massachusetts, Ehrhart and Vincent’s in New York, and Daigle Oil in Maine, among others – is also helping create a cleaner energy future by expanding into bulk wood pellet delivery and boiler installation. Switching from fossil fuels to wood pellets for heat cuts carbon emissions by over 50%, according to a 2016 study commissioned by the Northern Forest Center (https://northernforest.org/programs/modern-wood-heat/wood-pellet-greenhouse-gas-emissions-study). Companies like these are making significant investments in this sector, because they recognize both the environmental benefits and economic opportunity associated with local, renewable heat.
Wouldn’t it be great to feel good about how you heat?
Not everyone can feel good when they reach for the thermostat, but we should. Most of us who heat with wood think that it’s good for the environment and good for the broader forest economy and our communities. Intuitively it makes sense. Heating with local wood, supporting local jobs and keeping our heating dollars local must be better than using fossil fuels.
Now we’ve got data that proves heating with wood pellet fuel instead of fossil fuels in the Northern Forest drastically cuts greenhouse gas emissions. We’ve just announced the results of a research study for our region confirming that switching to modern wood heat – using a high-efficiency wood pellet boiler or stove – instead of oil will cut your greenhouse gas emissions by 54% immediately, and it gets even better over time. Switching from natural gas to wood pellets cuts your emissions by 59%.
That is significant news for the Northern Forest region, where the single biggest thing you can do to cut your contribution to the rising levels of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is to change how you heat your home!