My Turn: Policy needed to help Granite Staters switch to renewable modern wood heat

For the Monitor
Published: 10/23/2021 6:00:13 AM

Granite Staters that heat with fossil fuels are facing a winter of dramatically higher heating costs.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) is projecting a 43% cost increase for #2 heating oil and a 54% increase for propane this winter. Recent rate filings by New Hampshire natural gas utilities suggest much higher costs for this fuel as well. Reuters is reporting that oil prices will average $3.39/gal and propane as high as $3.50/gal. Electricity rates are slated for major increases.

This creates uncertainty and apprehension in consumers’ minds, particularly in New Hampshire, which is second only to Maine in its dependence on oil and propane to heat. These heating costs are in direct contrast to bulk and bagged wood pellets, the heat cost of which is 30% lower than oil and 70% lower than propane. Overall, the cost of wood pellets for heat has remained remarkably stable, and risen less than inflation over the past decade, according to NH Department of Energy price data. Wood chips provide even lower cost heat.

Now is the time for our elected leaders to step up to positively impact our environment, economy and Granite Staters’ heating options.

The Biomass Thermal Utilization Act (BTU Act) will help lower the capital hurdle for consumers looking to switch from fossil fuels to renewable, locally sourced wood chips, wood pellets and cordwood. As of the start of 2021, the BTU Act allows for new residential installations of modern wood heating to benefit from a 26% federal investment tax credit, thanks in large measure to work by New Hampshire’s congressional delegation. However, that’s slated to end by 2024.

Congress is now weighing a proposal to extend the homeowner credit and qualify commercial and business installations as well. The BTU Act will also extend both business and home credits out to 2033 at a 30% credit rate, similar to what solar has benefited from for years. The combination of the federal credit and state rebate incentives offered by the NH Department of Energy will lower the cost to that comparable to new oil and gas systems.

In addition, 68% of every dollar that’s spent on imported fossil heating fuels leaves our state economy, according to EIA. The BTU Act will help stop this hemorrhage of energy dollars. New Hampshire can use its renewable forest resources responsibly to support its economy, its labor force, its consumers and its businesses.

We have dense forests that benefit from good management, a long history of sustainable timber supply, excess waste wood and wood byproducts resulting from the decline in paper and biomass electric demands, and the infrastructure and technology to support this in place now. What’s needed is a policy to help Granite Staters switch to renewable modern wood heat.

The New Hampshire congressional delegation has steadfastly supported the BTU Act. I thank them for their efforts while encouraging them to keep making this work a priority. As Congress debates infrastructure and national clean energy policy, our legislators are at work to support us, our forests, our industry and our neighbors. We can set the example.

(Charlie Niebling is a professional forester and partner with the firm Innovative Natural Resource Solutions LLC.)

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