AN INDEPENDENT PROGRAM OF TOWER HILL BOTANIC GARDEN
Trees Benefit the Environment
Urban Wood: Are We Making the Most of What’s Hidden in Plain Sight?
By The Massachusetts Statewide Wood Energy Team
Massachusetts is lucky to have so many trees – lots of kinds and lots of them – in forests, parks, patches of woodland, along highways and streets, and in yards. One consequence of living in such close proximity to so many trees is that many thousands of tons of wood fiber need to be moved or removed every year due to storm damage, utility operations, street tree and park maintenance, and hazard reduction. Cities, towns, and contractors often pay for this material to be trucked some distance away, where it might be used or simply dumped to rot. While everybody is familiar with firewood, many people are probably less aware of the homegrown opportunity to turn a “waste disposal” problem into an asset available in just about every city and town in the Commonwealth. Thanks to a revolution in wood-burning technology and a new Massachusetts renewable energy incentives program, there might be a way to use some of this wood fiber locally, adding value to it and turning a liability into an asset. The recently-adopted Department of Energy Resources (DOER) Alternative Portfolio Standard regulations and guidelines provide Alternative Energy Credits (AECs) to qualifying owners and appliances. AECs work like Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) that have been around for a while in the electricity market, but fill a corresponding need for alternative heating and cooling technologies. These AECs can increase the affordability of heating a home, business, or municipal building with eligible wood fuel. The amount of the credit ranges from about $40 to $80 per ton, depending on the technology and fuel characteristics.
The scarcity of markets for “low-grade” wood and issues of forest management have gotten most of the attention, as this incentive program has been under development; far less attention has been paid to wood that ends up on the ground in other ways. History is full of examples of “waste material” becoming valuable. If you are paying to dispose of wood residue, heating locally with that wood is an alternative worth investigating!
At $2.50/ gallon of #2 fuel oil, a ton of green wood chips will produce the same amount of heat as $150 worth of oil. Seventy-one cents of every oil dollar leaves the local economy. If “available wood” can be burned locally, efficiently, and cleanly, far more of that dollar stays local and recirculates. Development of a local wood fuel supply chain can save money for cities and towns, strengthen the local economy, and create jobs.
In addition to AECs, DOER and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (CEC) offer a variety of incentive and rebate programs for qualifying systems. “Alternative generation units,” or modern wood-heating systems, must be automatically fed boilers or furnaces and use an eligible wood fuel (chips or pellets). These systems need to meet efficiency, performance, and emissions criteria to qualify for AECs.
Realizing the potential for local use of renewable fuels depends not only on incentives and good technology, but also on supply infrastructure (storage yard, chipping, drying), local champions (municipal officials, businesses, town commit- tees), and building public awareness. DOER is currently seeking proposals for projects that will build “renewable thermal infrastructure supply” – to address the chicken-and-egg problem of fuel supply security that could hinder the adoption of new technology.