The Opportunity in Modern Wood Heat

Installations alone aren’t enough to catalyze modern wood heat market growth. To really scale up and achieve significant, lasting benefits for rural communities, we need to make far more people aware that automated wood heat is even an option.
By Maura Adams | July 23, 2018

I love working at an organization where the boss wrote a blog titled “Eat Kale, Use Wood.”

The recent blog, by Northern Forest Center President Rob Riley, focused on why people have embraced the idea that eating more kale sustains local farms, but haven’t yet realized it is just as important to use forest products to support our local forests.

This is a message we work with every day at the center. We’re driven by our mission to build economic vitality and community well-being based on sound forest stewardship across the Northern Forest.  We are a nonprofit organization serving a 30 million-acre region that stretches from Lake Ontario to the Atlantic across northern New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

Our programs support many elements of the forest-based economy, from wood products manufacturing to destination development to community forests. Across all programs, we measure impact based on jobs supported, acres conserved for community benefit, and dollars invested in projects that benefit the region’s communities, the economy and forest stewardship. At last tally, we had benefited 4,951 jobs, helped conserve 255,562 acres, and secured and leveraged $199 million for the region’s benefit.

And we’re passionate about using wood pellets from the region’s well-managed forests to heat homes and buildings. We believe that automated wood heat presents a tremendous renewable energy opportunity for rural communities where wood is abundant, winters are cold and heating oil dependence is high. That’s why the center has been promoting high-efficiency, central wood pellet boilers since 2011 (coincidentally, that’s the same year Pellet Mill Magazine started publishing).

Pellet Mill Magazine has covered our work over the years, including the cover story in the March 2018 issue and a feature on our first Model Neighborhood initiative.  Now, I’m delighted to be contributing this new quarterly column to tell you more about our approach to this work, and share my insights as someone who sees automated wood heat as a triple win for the region’s people, forest, and economy.

The center is not a retailer or manufacturer, so our perspective is different. Our automated wood heat program generates and promotes the economic, environmental, and social benefits of switching from fossil fuels to regional wood pellets.

To start, we work on all parts of the value chain, but focus especially on the demand side. We support demonstration projects, provide incentives for installation of pellet boilers and stoves using bulk-supplied and stored pellets, and try to drive up awareness with public events and marketing.

As we go, we work closely with industry partners, but equally, seek to engage the environmental community and partners within state and federal agencies. The automated wood heat sector is small and fragile in the U.S., and we need supporters in every corner. We also present an integrated case for the technology, talking as much about social and environmental benefits as technical and economic. We find this message catches the attention of a much wider audience than would ordinarily be interested in heating systems.

As of June 30, the center has helped fund installation of more than 160 wood pellet boilers in homes, schools, businesses, and public buildings, and collectively, those systems have contributed more than $3 million to the regional economy and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 4,000 tons.

We recognize that these installations alone aren’t enough to catalyze market growth. To really scale up and achieve significant, lasting benefits for rural communities, we need to make far more people aware that automated wood heat is even an option. In my next column, I’ll tell you about the Feel Good Heat campaign and how to get involved, but for now be sure to check out www.feelgoodheat.org!

I look forward to sharing more about the different elements and outcomes of our wood heat work in this magazine, and encourage you to reach out with comments or questions.

This piece by Maura Adams of REV members organization Northern Forest Center originally appeared in Biomass Magazine.

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