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.

AWH Marketing Pellet DeliveryBut 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 ( 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.

It’s worth noting that several other companies, e.g. Vermont Renewable Fuels, Lyme Green Heat, and Maine Energy Systems, deliver only wood pellets, and some technicians only install wood pellet heating systems. We commend their longstanding commitment to local, renewable heat – their efforts have helped pave the way for others to expand the market.

Vermont’s Energy Action Network gave Peter its annual Anne & Arthur Berndt award for “bold leadership in support of efforts to advance broad, systemic change within Vermont’s energy system” at a summit focused on Vermont’s ambitious renewable energy and climate goals. Like the companies mentioned above, Bourne’s now offers specialized pellet delivery and pellet boiler installation in addition to oil and propane. When his technicians are in the basement with customers who need new boilers, they talk about automated wood heat as a new alternative instead of always recommending the status quo, like most companies do.

For the automated wood heat sector to expand, we need many more traditional energy companies to embrace this technology and recommend it to their customers. While those of us concerned about climate change and reliance on fossil fuels may sometimes see oil and propane vendors as adversaries, they’re essential to growing the clean energy sector – as the Energy Action Network recognized at its event this week. If you heat with fossil fuels, perhaps it’s worth talking with the company about whether it’s willing to exhibit similar “bold leadership” and begin supporting local, renewable heat as well. We can all feel great about this opportunity to advance a lower-carbon future!