Biomass

Woodstove 2006
Gord McKenna / Flickr Creative Commons

Starting Thursday residents of Cheshire County can turn in old, inefficient woodstoves for a voucher towards a new cleaner-burning stove.

The vouchers are worth $1,000 towards an EPA certified woodstove, $1,500 towards a pellet or gas stove, or $4,000 towards a new outdoor wood boiler. In all $425,000 worth of vouchers will be given out.

Woodstoves built before 1988 are a lot less efficient and put out a lot more pollution than modern stoves, and since they are essentially big chunks of iron they last a long time.

D-Kuru/Wikimedia Commons

The number of homes in New Hampshire using wood for heat has more than doubled over the last decade, from 3.8 percent in 2005 to 8.6 percent in 2013.

Much of that increase comes from wood pellets. Pellets have advantages over cord-wood – they are less work and burn more cleanly – and are cheaper than fuel oil or propane.

But the fuel’s rapid growth has meant the pellet industry has earned a few black-eyes from the occasional shortage, and manufacturers and retailers are struggling to figure out how to smooth out their supply chain.

About 51 percent of the wood purchased for the new Burgess BioPower biomass plant in Berlin during its first two months of operation came from New Hampshire, according to a new “sustainability” report filed with the state’s Site Evaluation Committee.

Thirty-five percent came from Maine.

Five percent from Vermont.

Eight percent from Massachusetts.

And "one truck load" came from Canada.

Pellergy / Flickr CC

Thanks to a $250,000 dollar federal grant a new group is working to promote the burning of wood for heating in high-efficiency boilers in the Granite state

The New Hampshire Wood Energy Council consists of nearly fifty biomass supporters from state agencies, non-profit organizations, and industry representatives. Those representatives will serve as ambassadors for using wood-pellet and wood-chip boilers.

D-Kuru/Wikimedia Commons

Those big stacks of wood pellets typically seen each fall in the parking lots of big box stores aren’t so easy to find right now. And, that’s posing a challenge for people like Andy Langlois of Berlin.

He heats with pellets and has become a hunter-gatherer.

“I had to start calling around as well as just stopping by places just to see if anybody has them and then how many they have,” he said.

Around the state stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot are often coming up short, spokeswomen for the companies acknowledged.

Sam Evans-Brown / NHPR

  A new EPA Clean Air standard for wood stoves is set to take effect next year.

It has been 25 years since the EPA wrote the first woodstove regulations. Since the rules were last refreshed, the health hazards from the unburned particles in wood smoke have been researched and quantified. But with the new rules now pending, manufacturers are saying that prices for new stoves will rise, and worry that will result in more people sticking with dirty old stoves.

Cheap, But Dirty

Around the state more institutions, towns and businesses are turning away from oil in favor of heating with wood, viewing it as a renewable resource that helps the region’s economy, lowers the carbon footprint and apparently saves money.

There’s a good example in the basement of the main building at The White Mountain School in Bethlehem.

The old is a huge, black, gray and rust-fringed H.B. Smith boiler that once feasted on heating oil.

A few feet away are three modern-looking, green and white pellet boilers.

Federal officials say six companies building a biomass plant in Berlin have put workers at risk by not following safety regulations.

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration proposes fining the companies about $280,000 for thirty-one “willful, serious and repeat violations of workplace safety standards.”

“These hazards included potential cave-ins, falls, scaffold collapse, crushing, exposure to lead and electrocution hazards,” said OSHA spokesman Ted Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald said there were no serious injuries or deaths.

New research raises new questions about how green burning wood really is, given the carbon impacts of both cutting and burning trees for energy.  But biomass supporters say carbon calculations are complicated…taking into account the lifecycle of trees, the sustainable practices of foresters today…and although not perfect, is far better than fossil fuels.

Guests

Andrew Friedland - the Richard and Jane Pearl Professor in Environmental Studies in the Environmental Studies Program at Dartmouth College: He researches carbon cycling in forests.

Land Rover Our Planet / Alex E. Proimos / Flickr Creative Commons

New Hampshire is one of only three states with a split legislature: Republicans control the Senate, Democrats the House of Representatives. The two bodies have shown an ability to work together on some issues this session, including business tax credits and limits on lead fishing tackle.

But with the end of the legislative year fast approaching, inter-chamber gamesmanship is on the rise. It can start simple enough. A routine legislative procedure on the House floor.

iStock Photo

EarthTalk®
E - The Environmental Magazine


Dear EarthTalk: What is “biomass” and why is it controversial as a potential source of energy?-- Edward White, New Bedford, MA

Biomass is plant matter that is burned as a source of energy. Fallen or cut wood that is burned for heat is one primary form of biomass, but another includes plant or animal matter that is converted into biofuels.

Flkr Creative Commons / PSNH

Public Service of New Hampshire has asked for a change in how much it charges consumers for electricity.

PSNH asked the Public Utilities Commission for a ten percent decrease in the price it charges for electricity. But any savings consumers might see would be eaten up by a simultaneous increase in the Stranded Cost Recovery charge.

Sam Evans-Brown

 

The New Hampshire legislature is considering a bill that would expand the state’s renewable portfolio standards. That means more money to subsidize renewable energy.

Supporters say the measure is a real boost to the state’s wood industries, but critics doubt whether the new subsidies are worth the price.

There’s a little something for everyone in the new Renewable Portfolio Standards.

Wisconsin lured Kestrel Aircraft away from Maine – and consequently Berlin – with a far stronger, multi-million dollar package, the Portland Press Herald is reporting.

Here’s what the newspaper says each state offered Kestrel.

WISCONSIN:

$30 million in tax credit allocations immediately through the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority

$30 million in tax credit allocations by the end of 2012 through the Wisconsin development authority

The Berlin Daily Sun is reporting there will be a job fair in Berlin next Thursday (Nov. 10th) for the new biomass plant but the construction workers must either be union members or agree to temporarily pay union dues.

“The job fair is being held by the New Hampshire Building Trades Council which will be providing union workers for the construction of the facility,” the newspaper reported.

Massachusetts is expected to announce new rules that will raise the bar on the definition of green energy.

NHPR’s Sam Evans-Brown reports that shift could cost NH electric producers millions of dollars.

Massachusetts is on track to pass new regulations aimed at cutting the amount of greenhouse gasses going into the atmosphere.

The focus is on power from biomass – basically, burning wood to make electricity.

Dwayne Breger of the Massachusetts Division of Energy Resources, says there are two good reasons to get the most out of every tree.