AUGUSTA — The Professional Logging Contractors of Maine believes that Gov. Mills’ goal of reducing both fossil fuel consumption and the heating bills of Maine citizens is a laudable one. We also believe it can be achieved in part through renewed emphasis on our state’s traditional wood energy economy.

Mills made reductions in fossil fuel use and heating bills a priority in her budget address Feb. 11 and has since reiterated this goal, most recently in her support for a fund to assist Mainers installing heat pumps in their homes.

This is an important strategy since in 2017, over 70 percent of Maine’s homes and businesses relied upon oil for space heating. That represents $745 million spent on heating oil in 2017, and $581 million of that expense went out of state even before the fuel was consumed.

While our organization appreciates and supports the governor’s goals and her recognition of new technologies that can benefit Maine, we encourage her, the Legislature and Maine citizens not to overlook the many advantages traditional wood heat has when applied to this conversation. While heat pumps are efficient, they have little to no economic benefit to the state of Maine after installation. State policy should serve the greatest number for the greatest good.

Wood remains a major heating source in Maine, and because it is produced and consumed locally , it provides more economic benefits to the state than any other by keeping dollars and jobs in our state’s economy. It is also a renewable fuel that reduces Maine’s use of nonrenewable fossil fuels. Trees grow back and sequester carbon. Fossil fuels do not.

Wood is also the most economical heating source in Maine. The annual cost of heating with wood is lower than any fossil fuel option as well as heat pumps, which ranked second in a comparison chart produced by Efficiency Maine. Wood pellet appliances are also superior financially to fossil fuel options, ranking ahead of natural gas, oil, kerosene and propane, and offering convenience to those for whom traditional woodstoves are impractical.

It is also important to note that modern wood energy technologies, including combined heat and power, wood-based biofuels and wood-fueled boilers are rapidly increasing the efficiency and possibilities of wood energy. It is because of these advantages that our group is working on woodheating initiatives, including L.D. 375, to ensure that Maine’s public schools, when spending taxpayer funds for new heating systems, give every consideration to “modern wood heat” applications.

In a recent study done for the Maine Statewide Wood Energy Assistance Team, almost all Maine schools using modern wood heat indicated a very high degree of satisfaction with their heating system. The enthusiasm included a sense of serving the larger community by providing forest jobs to Maine workers and using their system as an educational tool for students, as opposed to buying fuel from away.

The advantages Maine schools are finding in wood heat can be applied to other public buildings, businesses, homes and industries. While wood is not the best option in every case, it should be considered far more often than it is and Maine should be doing everything it can to promote it.

In Vermont today, nearly 40 percent of K-12 students are heated by a wood-based system. In Maine, that percentage hovers around 5 percent to 10 percent. Maine students, taxpayers and our rural economies deserve the same consideration, especially in the nation’s most forested state.

As Gov. Mills and the new Legislature begin to work through the challenges facing Maine, they should make sure that economic benefits for the state with respect to energy policy are given every consideration. Our energy challenges can be overcome with the resources surrounding us and Maine’s loggers and truckers can help overcome those challenges by capitalizing on an abundant, renewable and affordable resource: Maine wood. We can also use this philosophy to build an economy that transcends time and economic challenges and provides a roadmap for prosperity in rural Maine.

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