BETHEL — As the winter months approach, the days are getting shorter, the trees are bare and the first snows have fallen. Businesses, homes and schools across Maine are looking at their heating bills and considering their heating options.

Increasingly, many are turning to modern wood heating provided by renewable wood pellets and chips, and for good reason. It’s both cheaper and lower in greenhouse-gas emissions than oil or propane heating. Wood pellets are produced right here in Maine, mainly from sawdust, waste wood byproducts of manufacturing and logging and sustainably harvested low-grade timber. With an abundance of forests right here in our state, sustainable wood heating contributes to thousands of jobs and reduces Maine’s reliance on fossil fuel imports. We are to pellets as Saudi Arabia is to oil, with one very significant distinction – our energy is renewable.

Advanced wood pellet and chip boilers are cleaner than ever, providing an efficient source of heat with minimal emissions. In Europe, where energy-efficiency standards are high, countries have already caught on, providing consumers and businesses with powerful incentives to install advanced wood heating systems. The Efficiency Maine Trust provides attractive rebates on wood pellet boilers for home installation, but our federal government is lagging behind. The cost of a boiler or stove that can meet strict efficiency standards can be high, and even if it’s cheaper in the long run, many home and business owners can’t afford to make the switch from nonrenewable, imported fossil fuel sources.

That is why we need the Biomass Thermal Utilization Act (the BTU Act; HR 1479; S.628), which would provide a 30 percent tax credit for the purchase of advanced wood heating systems for installation in a home or business. This bill was introduced in Congress years ago, but it has never been closer to passage than it is right now. It simply asks our government to extend the same investment credit that has benefited solar electric and thermal, geothermal and other renewables for over a decade.  The bill has the support of the entire Maine congressional delegation, including Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden, as well as the delegations of Vermont and New Hampshire.

While this support is crucial, we need more from Maine’s delegation to push this bill over the finish line. Congress is considering renewing a large package of “tax extenders,” a swath of tax incentives set to expire at year’s end. The House Ways & Means Committee recently rolled out legislation titled the GREEN Act (Growing Renewable Energy and Efficiency Now) to address these extensions and also consider new renewable-energy incentives. This bill includes the residential credit from the BTU Act, but not the business credit. This is great progress, but we need the Maine delegation to weigh in on the need for the business credit, too. Maine small-business owners also face high heating costs and deserve the same incentives as homeowners to address their needs. The GREEN Act is now the vehicle for consideration of the BTU Act, and our delegation needs to press congressional leaders to ensure both the residential and business credits are included. Sen. Collins is in a particularly influential position.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell might not be familiar with our home and business heating needs in Maine. That is why Mainers should contact their delegation to thank them for supporting this legislation and encourage them to speak with House and Senate leadership to make the BTU Act the law. Whether you currently use a wood pellet or chip heating system, want to install one in your home or business or are simply a citizen of Maine and a part of our economy, this act would benefit us all. Wood pellets and chips are good for Maine’s economy and keep our buildings warm, and Congress should act now to make their use more affordable for Maine and all of America.

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