High fuel and electricity costs are in the headlines daily and contributing to higher prices for virtually every good, service and commodity Mainers buy, including heat. At the same time, reducing Maine’s dependence on fossil fuels is considered a priority for long-term environmental and economic reasons.

Wood pellets burn inside a Traeger hot water boiler at Evergreen Heat in Old Orchard Beach in 2008. Heating with wood is no longer limited to traditional hand-fed woodstoves. Tim Greenway/Staff Photograher, File

As we consider complex solutions to these problems, one of the simplest and most obvious is literally right in front of us – Maine wood, yet an editorial that ran Nov. 12 in MaineToday newspapers, Our View: We don’t have to put up with high heating bills, omitted this fact.

While other energy options tend to draw the spotlight lately, renewable, high-efficiency wood energy applications have been left out of the conversation.  However, they are one recommendation of the Governor’s Climate Council to fight climate change and move Maine away from fossil fuel dependence.

Heat pumps are a relatively efficient and affordable option many Mainers have embraced in recent years that were touted in the Nov. 12 editorial, yet they still use electricity from the grid, just like the old electric baseboard space heaters from decades ago. What’s old is new again, I guess, and now that electricity supply price hikes of 60 to 80 percent are predicted for a majority of Mainers early next year, some may soon wish they had opted for wood heat instead.

Heating with wood remains the cheapest and most reliable option available for many Mainers and is no longer limited to traditional hand-fed woodstoves but includes modern, and often automated, highly efficient wood and pellet boilers that require no more effort or involvement from homeowners than traditional oil boilers. The big difference is that wood is local, is not grid dependent and is not tied to expensive and, in many cases, foreign-sourced fossil fuels.

According to the latest information from the Maine Governor’s Energy Office, cord wood remains the cheapest average cost heating fuel in Maine statewide at $12.50 per million British thermal units generated, while wood pellets rank second at $16.24. Natural gas, which is generally available only in urban areas of Maine, is currently the only fossil fuel that can, in some cases, compete with wood pellets, with a listed average of $15.83-$20.59 depending on fuel utilization. Other fossil fuels are uncompetitive at current prices and expected to get worse, with heating oil at $22.78, kerosene at $27.78 and propane at $35.69.

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There are other good financial reasons to act now to embrace wood heat: A 26 percent federal tax credit for new residential wood-pellet boilers and stoves enacted by Congress at the end of last year applies to certain efficient appliances that have a thermal efficiency of at least 75 percent. An Environmental Protection Agency listing of efficiency ratings for wood heaters is available at cfpub.epa.gov/oarweb/woodstove/index.cfm?fuseaction=app.about.

In addition, Efficiency Maine also provides a rebate of up to $6,000 on efficient wood/pellet boilers or furnaces. Details are available at efficiencymaine.com/at-home/biomass-boilers-furnaces/ or by calling 866-376-2463.

Wood energy options are not only cheaper than fossil fuel alternatives, but also have positive carbon benefits while supporting hundreds of local jobs. By using wood for heat, we facilitate the proper management of Maine’s forests so that they remain forests rather than being converted for other purposes, never to see another tree again. Maine is the most forested state in the U.S. and could easily transition far more of its homes and businesses to wood heat while keeping more Maine dollars circulating in our own economy versus sending those dollars to foreign countries.

As the rollercoaster of energy prices in Maine, driven by supply and demand fluctuations in fossil fuel markets, plays out again before our eyes, wood prices and fuel supply availability remain stable. At the same time, harvesting this renewable resource supports Maine jobs and rural communities while reducing fossil fuel dependency and contributing to the fight against climate change.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Don’t be fooled again. Wood is abundant, reliable, affordable and renewable, and it’s time Mainers took another look at it.


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