The case for modern wood heating

Sam Evans Brown is executive director of Clean Energy New Hampshire. Joe Short is vice president of the Northern Forest Center.

Within the growing clean energy community, advocates agree that the transition from fossil fuels must be a top priority in the fight against climate change. Likewise, energy efficiency must be pursued aggressively alongside clean energy production.

Beyond these points, however, the consensus begins to crumble, and these disagreements jeopardize our ability to (quickly) use all the tools at our disposal to reduce the carbon footprint of our energy choices. To meaningfully reduce emissions, we need an all-renewable approach, not one that pits renewables against each other or makes the perfect the enemy of the good.

Take the case of modern wood heating. This is not an old wood stove, fireplace, outdoor wood furnace or wood burning power plant; It is a high-efficiency central heater that meets all EPA and state standards for soot and smoke emissions and can be used to replace oil-fired heating equipment or propane.

In the Northeast, heating our homes and buildings accounts for 40.3 million tons per year of carbon dioxide emissions from more than 3.6 billion gallons of fuel oil, not to mention other fossil fuels. used for heating. Beyond these massive climate impacts, fossil fuel heating is increasingly exacting a heavy economic toll. Furnace oil prices have risen from $2.27/gallon in January 2021 to $4.84/gallon today, draining significant dollars from household budgets and the regional economy.

In contrast, modern wood heating reduces net carbon dioxide emissions by more than 50% compared to fossil fuels. And woodfuels, locally produced and renewable, have remained affordable and at a stable cost for years. This winter, wood heating was cheaper per BTU than all other heating fuels. Additionally, in New Hampshire, forest growth currently exceeds harvest by more than 2:1, making it difficult to say that our wood resources are not being used sustainably.

Given these realities, modern, high-efficiency, low-emission wood heating should play a central role as we seek to move away from fossil fuels. However, we see it increasingly marginalized or even demonized by certain defenders of renewable energies.

Cutting down any tree is considered unenvironmental, ignoring well over a century of New England practices in natural forest management for multiple benefits while increasing tree cover. Anti-timber arguments frequently assume that forestry practices from other parts of the country, e.g., Southeastern pellet plantations, ancient logging from the Pacific Northwest, take place in New England, this which is simply not the case. Modern wood-burning technology is held to a level of perfection and scrutiny that no other renewable energy is subjected to, despite being highly efficient, meeting all state and federal standards for particulate emissions ( less than dusty dirt roads) and provides immediate carbon. advantages.

We believe that more nuance is needed in this discussion and that a plan to eliminate carbon emissions in New Hampshire should be grounded in local realities.

Transitioning to a net-zero carbon economy is a challenge complicated enough without completely abandoning renewable energy sources that are immediately available, beneficial, affordable and accessible. Modern, low-emission, high-efficiency wood heating deserves to be considered a good option, along with heat pumps and geothermal heating, in our political pantheon.

Edward N. Arrington