December 15, 2013

Tougher pollution limits for wood stoves might just backfire

Manufacturers say new rules will drive up costs and spook buyers who would otherwise upgrade older, dirtier units.

By Tux Turkel
Staff Writer

GORHAM — A low fire was burning in the Jotul F45 Greenville, but something was missing: smoke.

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Jotul Stove employee Joe Osmond, who works at the Jotul North America plant in Gorham moves a finished stove down a conveyor line for final inspection and packaging.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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This new wood stove in the research and development lab here at Jotul North America was venting into an uncapped metal flue, allowing a visible check of just how clean a modern stove can be.

Using seasoned hardwood, the F45 Greenville can burn up to eight hours and heat a 1,600-square-foot house, but send out only 2.31 grams per hour of fine-particle pollution. That’s less than a third of the maximum emissions allowed by the federal government for similar stoves, making it one of the cleanest-burning, mass-produced stoves on the market.

But the government says that’s not good enough. Twenty-six years have passed since the Environmental Protection Agency set emission standards for wood heaters. This winter, the agency is putting the final touches on a far-reaching and controversial update. It would require wood-stove makers to slash particulate emissions to 1.3 grams per hour in 2019.

Some stove makers say this is the wrong approach. Jotul estimates that it will cost nearly $1 million to re-engineer its stoves to meet the 2019 standards and could drive up the cost of a stove by 25 percent. The fix will mean adding catalytic combustion chambers. That technology can reduce emissions, but Jotul says such burners could make it harder for owners to maintain their stoves.

Jotul also points out that there are at least 7 million older-technology stoves kicking around the country, while retailers sold fewer than 74,000 new units last year. A well-built wood stove lasts for generations. So even if the federal government doubles down on the regulations, switching out all the old-style stoves with cleaner models will take decades.

“It doesn’t matter whether we get to zero grams per hour until we get the dirty stoves out of circulation,” said Bret Watson, president of Jotul North America.

Watson has another solution: a wood stove change-out program. Last summer, dealers offered $300 credits to people who exchanged their old stove for a new Jotul, which sells for between $1,000 and $3,000. Buyers also got a $300 federal rebate on top of Jotul’s credit.

The program was the nation’s first stove change-out led by a manufacturer. It captured 1,406 old stoves, 146 of them in Maine.

The promotion was so successful that Jotul plans to do it again next summer. The federal funds will expire, but a $250 Efficiency Maine rebate for efficient wood stoves will help.

The program has won the endorsement of the Northeast chapter of the American Lung Association, which received $10 for every old stove turned in. The group supports stricter emissions standards, but agrees with Jotul that change-outs hold greater promise for improving air quality in the near term.

The new EPA standards also will cover outdoor wood boilers, furnaces and masonry heaters. The draft rules are expected to be issued soon, followed by a 90-day comment period. Public hearings could be held next spring in Boston and Seattle.

It’s clear the agency is under pressure to enact the most stringent standards possible.

Seven states that include Massachusetts and Connecticut – but not Maine – have filed a notice to sue the EPA for failing to revise its outdated air pollution standards for residential wood heat. Their top concern is outdoor wood boilers, but they are also concerned about wood stoves.

Advocacy groups also are weighing in.

Jotul’s program is commendable, according to the Alliance for Green Heat, a Maryland-based group that promotes clean wood stoves, but the impact of change-out programs is overestimated.

Change-outs typically underperform when they are open to everyone and don’t target the worst polluters, according to John Ackerly, the group’s president. And in areas where other residents can still install old secondhand stoves, the clean-air benefits of the new stoves are canceled out.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Joe Osmond installs fire bricks into a Jotul stove built at the company’s Gorham factory. Stove makers say stricter emissions standards aren’t likely to improve air quality unless owners of older stoves can be enticed to switch to cleaner burring units.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Bret Watson is president of Jotul North America, in the Gorham Industrial Park. “The real task,” he said, “is to give people in rural Maine incentives to replace their stoves.” The company’s plant employs 75 people to assemble and fabricate stoves with parts shipped from Norway.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer


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