New Hampshire's wood pellet and wood boiler industries will be getting another boost, thanks to a decision by the Public Utilities Commission to fund a former federal stimulus program with $450,000 from the state's Renewable Energy Fund.
Under the program -- the only one of its kind in the country -- the PUC will rebate the installation cost of fully automated wood pellet boiler heating systems, to a maximum of $6,000.
That's a full heating system, with a wood furnace in the basement being fed automatically, controlled by a thermostat in the home, not a wood pellet stove in the living room fed manually with 40 pound bags, which is more often used to supplement the main furnace downstairs.
The program will provide rebates to the first 80 to 100 homeowners who sign up -- a small fraction of the roughly 325,000 homes in the state that primarily heat their homes with oil and propane, but a large fraction of the 250 or so homes that currently have a wood heating system.
This is the second go-round for the program, which was first funded in 2010 with $450,000 in federal stimulus money via the New Hampshire Office of Energy and Planning. That program soon ran out of money, so in May 2011 the state came up with another $100,000, which was quickly exhausted as well. All told, some 96 homes switched to wood furnaces.
But with the federal budget possibly going over a fiscal cliff, no one is even talking about more stimulus money. So this year's $450,000 is coming from the Renewable Energy Fund, which is supported through penalties that utilities pay the state if they don't meet requirements to provide an increasing percentage of energy from renewable sources.
By 2025, 23.8 percent of the energy must come from renewable sources. Recently the law was relaxed a bit to allow a larger percentage of that standard to be supplied via bio-fuels, like wood pellets.
This year, the demand for the wood heating rebates may not be so great because of the low price of natural gas, but about two-thirds of the state geographically and about 40 percent of the population don't have access to natural gas, said Charlie Niebling, general manager of New England Wood Pellet in Jaffrey, the state's largest manufacturer of wood pellet fuel.
Full details on the rebate program can be found on the PUC website or by calling 603-271-6011.
The renewable energy fund also provides grants to specific projects via a competitive process. On Monday, the PUC announced the latest round of seven awards totaling about $750,000:
• Cartographic Associates Inc., $43,000: Cartographic Associates will replace three oil-fired furnaces at its offices in downtown Littleton with a single high-efficiency wood pellet boiler. This project will be leveraged with an investment of $22,762 by the grantee, for a total project cost of $65,762.
• Claremont Fire Department, $52,000: The Claremont Fire Department will install a high-efficiency wood pellet boiler at its circa 1917 fire station. Total project cost is $65,000.
• Colby Solar LLC, $100,000: Colby Solar will install solar electric panels on Colby-Sawyer College campus buildings in New London. Colby-Sawyer will purchase power from Colby Solar at below-market rates for six years. The college will then purchase the solar arrays at a deeply discounted price. The solar system is expected to result in a savings of about $20,000. Total project cost is $474,622.
• Northeast BioEnergy Systems LLC, $93,000: Northeast BioEnergy Systems will install a wood chip boiler at Russell Elementary School in Rumney. The school will enter into a power purchase agreement with Northeast BioEnergy Systems, with the option to purchase the system later at a deep discount compared to the original project cost of $372,000. The new boiler is expected to result in cost savings of $35,000 annually.
• Sullivan County, $300,000: The county will install a district energy system at the Sullivan County Complex. Wood chips will be used to generate both heat and electricity for several county buildings, including a jail and nursing home. The renewable cogeneration system is expected to create energy savings of $290,000 per year. Total project cost: $3.18 million.
• University of New Hampshire, $59,750: UNH will install a solar hot air system on the façade of Kingsbury Hall on the Durham campus. This system will use sunlight to pre-heat the large volumes of fresh air. Total project cost: $119,500.
• Walker Wellington LLC, $100,000: Working in partnership with the city of Dover, Walker Wellington will install a turbine generator in the outfall pipe at the city's wastewater treatment facility. The turbine will generate 80 megawatt hours of electricity per year, Total project cost: $129,000. -- BOB SANDERS/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEW
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