From blogs to The New York Times, much is being said about the carbon impact of using wood for energy—without much distinction between using it for heat or electricity generation. Yet when it comes to carbon, they are worlds apart.

Fully accounting for the carbon impact of using wood as fuel is very complicated, and blanket statements that assume all energy from wood is equal are ignoring critical distinctions between wood as a heating fuel, and wood used to generate electricity.

The Northern Forest Center specifically champions modern wood heat because—in the context of the Northeast—generating heat from wood via highly efficient primary heating systems is a triple winner, producing reliable, local fuel at a stable price; saving money and creating jobs for rural communities; and reducing net atmospheric carbon dioxide over time. Ideally, wood heat is sourced and produced close to where it is used, at a scale that fits within the carrying capacity of the region’s forests.

As you well know modern wood heat presents an extraordinary opportunity for Northern New England and New York. Local heat keeps money in local communities, creates jobs in forestry and manufacturing, cuts heating bills, helps keep forests as forests, decreases carbon dioxide emissions over time, and more.

What you may not know is that the Center’s work is about more than just putting boilers in basements in demonstration projects: it’s really about transforming the region’s energy economy. This vision keeps us going when obstacles arise, and it’s why we’re so intent on helping build a sustainable market for modern wood heating systems.

It’s impossible not to notice this season’s low oil prices. In the wood heat world, where the easiest way to promote a fuel switch is (arguably) to emphasize cost savings, this isn’t the terrific news it is for people whose oil bills have dropped. On the other hand, it gives us an opportunity to look at oil and wood cost trends and to highlight some of the other reasons that modern wood heat makes sense.

I recently posed this question to friends, and most of them – no surprise – said no. They don’t like the cost or distant sourcing of oil and propane, don’t like smoky old wood stoves, and don’t like the environmental impact of natural gas extraction. Heating often seems like a necessary evil for those of us in cold climates, who feel like we have to choose between “least bad” options – and yet heating systems exist that are actually beneficial to the regional economy, communities and environment.