Model Neighborhood Wood Heat Initiative reports great success

By Northern Forest Center | October 02, 2015

Participants in the Model Neighborhood Wood Heat Initiative gathered Oct. 1 to celebrate the program’s success. So far, the program has helped install state-of-the-art, high efficiency wood pellet boilers in 23 homes and 8 non-residential buildings. Participants have saved more than $180,000 buying wood pellets manufactured in Maine instead of fossil fuel from out-of-state sources.

The benefits of the program go well beyond the direct participants. Their switch to using a “local heat” fuel source has generated more than $500,000 in positive economic impact for the region. “We’re championing modern wood heat as a strategy for creating jobs in the forest economy and reducing net carbon dioxide emissions,” said Program Director Maura Adams of the Northern Forest Center. “Most of the boilers we’ve helped install have replaced oil heating systems.”

The Northern Forest Center and local partner Western Maine Community Action invited participants in the program to dinner and a celebration of the program’s success. “Farmington and Wilton are model neighborhoods for wood heat now,” said Adams. “They have a high concentration of homes and non-residential buildings that have switched to wood pellet boilers for their primary heat source. Everyone who participates is an ambassador for wood heat, and we want to keep the momentum going even after our program winds up.”

The Model Neighborhood Wood Heat Initiative has financial incentives remaining to help fund installation of wood pellet boilers in 2 more homes and 3 more buildings of any type other than single-family residences. Homeowners in Farmington and Wilton are eligible for subsidies of 15% of the installation cost, up to $3,000 each. Homeowners (anywhere in Maine) are also eligible for up to $5,000 in rebates from Efficiency Maine.

The subsidies for buildings other than single family homes, up to $12,000 each, can be used by businesses, non-profits, and municipalities anywhere in Franklin or Oxford counties.

“We’re looking for the right projects for the last several subsidies,” said Adams, adding that the subsidies for the non-single-family buildings are available only through the end of November. Anyone interested in the last subsidies should contact Gabe Perkins at [email protected] or 207-217-7262.

The fully automated wood pellet boilers hook into the existing heat-delivery systems. Pellets are delivered in bulk to a storage unit that automatically feeds the boiler when the thermostat calls for heat. Unlike wood pellet stoves, there is no need to carry bags of pellets, feed the stove or clean it out daily. High-efficiency wood pellet boilers produce a small container of ash that can be spread on lawns and gardens a few times a year.

The Maine Model Neighborhood is one of four that the Center has started with local partners to motivate homeowners and commercial building owners to switch to “local heat” across the Northern Forest. Berlin, N.H. led the way, where 40 homeowners and several nonresidential property owners installed boilers. In Vermont, the program is assisting homeowners and working lands businesses in the Northeast Kingdom. In New York, the program will focus on the communities of Saranac, Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake. “We have a tremendous renewable resource in the region,” said Adams. “Wood pellet manufacturing is using only a fraction of the wood that used to go into paper making, and this new industry is benefiting the region. All together, our programs have generated more than $3.5 million benefit to the regional economy and will result in more than a 3,000-ton reduction of carbion dioxide.”

The Northern Forest Center 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 local, reliable fuel at a stable price; cost savings and jobs for rural communities; and a net reduction in carbon dioxide over time. Wood heat is produced where it is used at a scale that fits well with the carrying capacity of the region’s forests.

The Model Neighborhood Wood Heat Initiative in western Maine is a partnership of Western Maine Community Action and the Northern Forest Center.  More information is available here.