Turning up the Biomass Heat

The governor of Vermont has requested state incentives be implemented for wood pellet heat.
By Lisa Gibson | May 23, 2011

Vermont has rich wood resources and the opportunity for further development of that local fuel and its local biomass equipment manufacturing. Thus, the governor has requested the state develop and implement incentives to spur a switch from oil to wood pellet heat in residential and commercial applications.

Gov. Peter Shumlin called on the state-contracted program Efficiency Vermont and the state Department of Public Service to craft the incentives. The request also specified that the incentives become part of the state’s comprehensive energy plan due out this fall.

“This makes sense for Vermont’s economy, it makes sense for Vermont’s environment, and it makes sense for Vermonters’ pocketbooks,” Shumlin says. “This would be a great use of wood and pellets, and a strong integration of our energy goals with our economic interests.”

No firm timeline is in place for rolling out the new incentives program, but Efficiency Vermont hopes to launch it this summer, according to George Twigg, deputy policy director for Vermont Energy Investment Corp., which runs Efficiency Vermont. The state already provides direct financial incentives to consumers for high-efficiency fossil fuel stoves, he says, and this program will be similar, although the specific amount has yet to be determined. “Really what the governor asked us to do is expand the eligibility of the existing program to include biomass fuel systems as well,” Twigg says.

The wood pellet incentives will essentially be a rebate paid by Efficiency Vermont for purchasing wood pellet-burning equipment. The expectation is the incentives will be based on Btu output, as well as efficiency, according to Andrew Perchlik, of the state’s Clean Energy Development Fund. “The incentives won’t be huge,” Twigg adds. “The available funding in this area is pretty limited.”

Efficiency Vermont and the Department of Public Service are currently working with equipment manufacturers and suppliers in Vermont to hash out the details of the program, Twigg says. “At this point, it’s a matter of getting some information from industry and doing some work on our own to specify the eligible equipment and determine an appropriate rebate.”

The money comes from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which provides carbon reduction funding to New England states, Perchlik says. Biomass advocates in Vermont had questioned the lack of biomass funding for thermal efficiency and the legitimate argument prompted the governor’s request, he adds.

“The governor wants to send a signal about making this a priority and now we have some work to do to make it happen,” Twigg says.

—Lisa Gibson