Vermont program to support switch to pellet boilers expands

By Northern Forest Center | March 02, 2016

The Northern Forest Center is expanding a program that helps Vermonters switch to high-efficiency wood pellet boilers to provide heat for homes, businesses and other properties in the Northeast Kingdom. The Center’s Model Neighborhood Wood Heat Initiative helps convert buildings to local, renewable wood pellets for heat to support the local forest economy and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The Model Neighborhood Wood Heat Initiative has helped more than a dozen property owners in the Northeast Kingdom switch from fossil fuels and older, polluting wood burners. Thanks to new funding, the Center is offering subsidies for 25 more residences and 10 non-residential buildings. Homeowners are eligible for $1,000 to $5,000 incentives based on a sliding income scale. Owners of non-residential buildings—including businesses, non-profits and municipalities—are eligible for a $10,000 subsidy. These incentives are in addition to rebates currently available from Efficiency Vermont and the Clean Energy Development Fund.

An additional $2,000 incentive is available for the first three non-residential projects to commit by April 1, 2016.

“Switching to wood pellet boilers is the right thing to do, even when oil prices are low,” said Maura Adams, program director for the Northern Forest Center. “Buying local wood pellets is good for our economy just the way buying local food is. One hundred percent of what we spend on wood pellets keeps circulating in the local economy, but 78 percent of what we spend on heating oil leaves the local economy.”

The Center champions wood heat because it is a reliable, local fuel at a stable price, it creates jobs for rural communities, and it reduces net atmospheric carbon dioxide over time. The carbon reduction compared to oil or propane is due to the high-efficiency of the wood pellet boiler and because as trees grow back in a harvested forest they absorb carbon dioxide. “No fossil fuel can absorb the carbon it put into the air,” said Adams.

Northeast Kingdom residents can learn more about the subsidies available and pellet boiler technology at information sessions on March 9.  The session in Newport begins at 1 pm at the Gateway Center, 84 Fyfe Drive. The session in Craftsbury Common begins at 6pm in Minden Hall at Craftsbury Academy, 1422 North Craftsbury Road (Minden Hall is next to the main building). At both locations, Northern Forest Center staff and manufacturers will be on hand to offer information and answer questions for two hours.

Program details and an application are available online.

Over the 25-year life of the wood pellet boilers installed through the Vermont Model Neighborhood Initiative, participants will eliminate nearly 2 million gallons of oil and reduce net carbon dioxide by almost 18,000 tons. By purchasing wood pellets instead of oil, participants will generate about $6.5 million in positive economic impact.

The Center developed the Model Neighborhood Wood Heat Initiative with partners in New Hampshire and Maine to build a density of high-efficiency wood pellet boiler installations in specific geographic areas. The goal was to demonstrate the reliability and efficiency of the boilers and create a market for bulk delivery of wood pellets.

“We’ve helped install more than 120 wood pellet boilers and people are very happy with them,” said Adams. “These are whole-building automated systems that completely replace oil or propane boilers. Pellets are delivered in bulk for storage on site, then fed automatically to the boiler when heat is needed. There are no bags of pellets to lug or cordwood to haul.”

Funding for the Model Neighborhood program comes from the Vermont Working Lands Enterprise Board, High Meadows Fund, Lintilhac Foundation, VLITE, USDA Rural Development and others.

Homeowners selected for the program will be required to complete a BPI Energy Audit through a designated provider at a subsidized cost. Non-residential project participants will be required to take advantage of a free energy efficiency assessment with Efficiency Vermont staff.

The Vermont Model Neighborhood is part of the Center’s broader wood heat initiative, which is building the market for high-efficiency, low-emission wood pellet boilers for homes and small-scale commercial installations in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York and advocating for supportive public policies on the state and federal levels.

Other benefits of the program include strengthening markets for low-grade wood, which provides a financial incentive to forestland owners to keep their forests intact, and opportunities to stabilize and increase employment in forest-based businesses.

The Northern Forest Center builds economic and community vitality while fostering sound forest stewardship in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York.