By Barb and Greg Whitchurch
On November 2nd, Renewable Energy Vermont (REV) held a press release event to announce their 5-Year Action Plan (bit.do/REVT5-Y). The event was hosted by Vermont Artisan Coffee and Tea Co. (VAC&T) at their brand-new, wood-heated headquarters in Waterbury, Vermont. The 5-Year Plan focuses on locally harvested and prepared wood biomass fuel and advanced wood heating systems. (More about the press release event and VAC&T appears in a companion article on page 22.)
Renewed interest in wood heating has been driven by the need for pollution reduction; the rising price of fossil fuels; the availability of high-tech measurement sensors that can measure the efficiency of the burn; and computerized systems that use these sensors to calculate and then control proper carburetion and temperature settings. Likewise, there has been a revolution in how we prepare wood for burning, and what grades of wood can be used given these new methods.
Many people are unaware that softwoods as well as hardwoods are good candidates for fuel. When dry, both types give about the same heat output pound per pound — but left as cordwood, the heavier, denser hardwoods take up far less space to store than softwoods. However, when processed into pellets or chips, this space and weight variation is reduced to insignificance. In Vermont, the logging, trucking and manufacturing of these chips and pellets, and their subsequent use as heating fuel, can help to solve modern-day problems: land use, forestry, employment, weather event resiliency, stable fuel cost and availability, and personal and state financial challenges.
REV set about addressing all of these issues and opportunities. By applying the principles of sustainable forestry, maximized efficiency, local acquisition and production, energy security, and pollution mitigation, they determined that by the year 2030 Vermont could obtain 35% of its heating energy needs through the use of locally-produced wood chips, pellets and cordwood burning in advanced heating systems.
With respect to our mission here at G.E.T, let’s consider our air quality and climate first. A study commissioned by the Northern Forest Center (bit.do/WP-GHG) found that the harvesting, transportation, manufacture and burning of wood pellets created less than half the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of oil and natural gas. A healthy, managed forest also helps to clean our air of CO2 while providing O2. The low-grade wood used for chips and pellets encourages better forest stewardship by providing a market for what’s often left damaged and behind – you won’t see a forest clear-cut for the low-grade wood used in wood chips and pellets.
Recent temporary drops in fossil fuel prices and the loss of a major portion of our pulp-for-paper industries have conspired to reduce demand for low-grade woods in Vermont. Workers, businesses, jobless benefits, and food shelves have felt these pressures. About 78¢ of every dollar spent on fossil fuels leaves Vermont; implementing the 5-Year Plan would add $70 million and about 580 new jobs in Vermont. Our two pellet mills are expected to increase to six next year.
Although these heating systems easily make financial sense over the longer term, the upfront costs can prove to be a hurdle in our current economic model – therefore, the many incentive programs available (e.g. Clean Energy Development Fund – http://bit.ly/CEDF-VT). There is currently a bipartisan-sponsored bill (H.357 – see bit.do/WP-TAX-VT) before the Vermont legislature that would eliminate the sales tax on these systems, and REV is proposing such an approach for the bulk delivery of wood fuel which, unlike fossil fuel deliveries, is currently taxed.
What can you do? There are wood stove “change-out” programs available for older wood stoves and boilers (including outside boilers) that will pay most of the cost of a new, efficient stove at RERC-VT.org. (google “wood stove changeout yourstate” or bit.do/WS-CHANGE.) The editor of this paper recently replaced the older stove in her basement with a brand new Quadra-Fire Discovery II for ¼ of its list price. Auto-feed wood chip and pellet stoves also qualify.
This 5-Year Action Plan is endorsed by many organizations and agencies in G.E.T.’s distribution area including Pellergy and New England Wood Pellet.
For many years Barb and Greg Whitchurch have heated their house, cooked, and heated their water with cordwood in a masonry stove, cookstove and a parlor stove. They are board members of Vermont Passive House and owners of a net-zero passive house in Middlesex, Vermont, a LEAF, and a Prius. http://bit.ly/2nRCdGL (802)223-2416
Many thanks to our sponsor: