Report: Few states ready to tap wood heat potential

By Anna Austin | February 17, 2011

The Alliance for Green Heat has released a report that finds that while the use of wood for heat in many states is rapidly increasing, most states do little or nothing to promote and manage it.

In the report, the alliance grades all states on categories which include policies that help reduce wood smoke, promote the cleanest appliances and restrict the most polluting ones, and provide educational information on best wood heat practices.

The top ranking states are California, Colorado, New Hampshire, Oregon and Washington. The report notes that these states are not necessarily states with the highest per capita wood heat use, but they are often at the forefront of developing renewable energy.

John Ackerly, president of the alliance, said the report is aimed at state officials. “We want to raise the bar of what [policies] we think they should be considering, and we want them to better appreciate the contribution of wood heat while learning some ways they can incentivize and burn wood more efficiently and cleanly,” he said. “We’d like to see many more people using wood heat, as long as they are doing it in the cleanest possible way.”

Burning woody biomass is often controversial, Ackerly points out, and residential wood heat is often viewed as something that’s polluting. “[In the biomass heat industry] there’s a focus more on businesses and not on consumers, which is where our focus is,” he says. “Biomass helps millions of people around the country heat their homes and pay their utility bills and not get their electrical services shut off.”

In fact, wood heat is often the second- or third-most popular heating fuel in hundreds of rural counties across the U.S., Ackerly said, but the amount of fossil fuels avoided by that is underappreciated. “For example, there are about 300,000 home solar installations, and there are millions of homes using wood heat. We’re an incredible success story when it comes to reducing fossil fuels. We still have some emissions problems—we have a ways to go—but we’re way better than what we used to be.”

The most interesting or surprising conclusion of the report was the growth of wood heat over the past decade, Ackerly said. “It’s really an important trend, and we didn’t know that in some states it was growing that fast—in Michigan, it grew 50 to 80 percent [from 2000-2009].”

The good news is that wood has huge potential, Ackerly added. “But the one thing that really surprised us is some states don’t even have a paragraph about it on their website. The little amount of attention it gets in some states was shocking.”

To view a copy of the report, visit