Wood Heating Systems Gain Favor In Cold Northern U.S.

With the touch of a finger on an iPod-style screen, Eric Besenfelder can monitor and troubleshoot the shiny, wood-pellet furnace that heats Athens Elementary School in the Hudson Valley. Like the smoky, outdoor wood boilers that have proliferated in rural areas over the past 20 years, the wood furnace at Athens is housed in a […]

With the touch of a finger on an iPod-style screen, Eric Besenfelder can monitor and troubleshoot the shiny, wood-pellet furnace that heats Athens Elementary School in the Hudson Valley. Like the smoky, outdoor wood boilers that have proliferated in rural areas over the past 20 years, the wood furnace at Athens is housed in a shed behind the building. But that’s where the similarity ends.

“This burns very cleanly and produces very little ash,” said Besenfelder, director of facilities for the Coxsackie-Athens School District, beside the Hudson River 30 miles south of Albany. “It takes no more maintenance than an oil boiler. Everything’s automated.”

Athens is among a growing number of schools, government buildings, nature centers and homes that have switched from fossil fuels to renewable wood heat in Northern states to save money and support the local forestry economy.

At least 10 states offer incentives including grants, low-interest loans, tax credits and training programs to promote biomass heating, according to the Alliance for Green Heat. The New York Energy Research and Development Authority is offering homeowners 25 percent of the installed cost of an advanced wood-pellet boiler up to $20,000, with a $4,000 bonus if they’re replacing a smoky old-fashioned wood boiler. Large commercial installations can get 25 percent of the cost, up to $150,000.

The Northern Forest Center, a nonprofit based in Concord, New Hampshire, is promoting the biomass heat industry by subsidizing the installation of high-efficiency pellet boilers in “model neighborhoods.” The idea is to create a critical mass of users to increase familiarity with the systems and demonstrate their value.

From U.S. News & World Report: http://www.usnews.com/news/business/articles/2015/04/05/high-efficiency-wood-heating-systems-winning-converts

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