Wood heat dominates despite lack of incentives

By Lisa Gibson | July 12, 2011

A yet-to-be-released report by nonprofit group Alliance for Green Heat shows that wood heating in America dominates the residential renewable energy market, even with virtually no government subsidies to support it.

“Transforming Wood Heat in America: A Toolkit of Policy Options” found that a $1,000 stove incentive could reduce as much fossil fuel as a $10,000 solar incentive, drive consumers toward low-emitting units and help ordinary Americans afford their utility bills.

“Our report shows that despite all the hoopla around solar, wood heat creates 80 percent of all residential renewable energy and it is a movement led by ordinary Americans—not wealthy families who can afford solar panels, geothermal systems or Priuses,” said John Ackerly, Alliance for Green Heat president. “In this age of retracting government budgets, we show that renewable energy can still move forward if we focus on technologies accessible to even low-income families, and not focus on the ultra-expensive ones that require generous government subsidies.”

The report will be released in its entirety July 13 and findings will be presented during a July 19 webinar titled The Future of Residential Wood & Pellet Heat in America.

About 13 million wood and pellet stoves are in operation today in about 10 percent of American homes, saving families hundreds of millions of dollars in fossil fuel bills, according to the alliance. About 80 percent of residential renewable energy comes from wood and pellets, it added, while only 15 percent comes from solar and 5 percent from geothermal.

The group cautions, though, that many of the residential stoves and boilers in operation now are too polluting and programs to replace appliances with new ones are necessary. But the report also found that while emissions are a barrier to widespread use of some existing technologies, wood harvesting is generally sustainable, according to the alliance.

The report authors interviewed more than 150 stakeholders to assemble a policy tool kit to help local, state and federal officials promote cleaner wood heating in America and maximize its potential as a core renewable energy technology.

“While federal and state subsidies flow to wealthy families to install solar panels, ordinary American families are reducing their reliance on fossil fuels much faster with wood and pellet heating,” Ackerly said.

The year-long study, partially funded by the U.S. Forest Service, was guided by a wood heat task force comprised of industry, air quality experts, nonprofits and foresters.

For more information on the July 19 webinar, read “Webinar tackles barriers to growth in residential wood heat use.”