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Using local wood for warmth, jobs, building a better world

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Downstreet Housing in Barre

Source: Eileen Peltier

In 2015, we, Downstreet Housing and Community Development, made the conscious decision to invest in an advanced wood heating system for a new housing project in Barre. The investment was made based on both financial and environmental considerations; a decision that continues to benefit us today. Currently, the Vermont legislature is considering a sales tax exemption on these types of systems, and we believe that if you want to support Vermont’s working lands, local tradespeople, and lower energy prices, this is a positive step forward.

The process of operating an advanced wood heating system follows a similar path to that of traditional oil or gas boilers or furnaces. Fuel is delivered by a local company, stored in a bin or silo on site, and when the system needs fuel, it is automatically fed. The whole system requires no more effort than any other system, and most people don’t even notice that our building is heated with wood.

Where advanced wood systems differ and shine in comparison to that of traditional systems is in their price and environmental impact. Historically, the price of wood fluctuates less than fossil fuels. Having low and less volatile fuel prices is an important factor in keeping housing affordable and sustainable. In addition to earning financial savings, using an advanced wood system also benefits our local economy. In the Northeast, low-grade wood markets have suffered in recent years due to the closure of pulp mills in the area. That, in turn, has led to a loss of forestry jobs, as much of the funding for forest care comes from these low-grade woods sales. By using local wood to keep our residents warm, we put Vermonters to work while helping to create and keep jobs and caring for our state’s working lands.

From an environmental perspective, advanced wood systems are considerably more equitable to our planet than that of its competitors, oil, gas or coal. As members of the community and a world of communities who understand that years of burning fossil fuels has and continues to alter the climate, we firmly believe in making smart renewable energy choices on a local level is crucial if we are to see global change.

On a state level, a report published in October of last year by a coalition of nonprofits, local businesses, and state agencies facilitated by Renewable Energy Vermont outlined how Vermont could take steps to meet 35% of its thermal energy needs by the year 2030. A common hurdle to achieving such results is the initial cost. Though wood heat users can expect lower and more predictable energy prices over the life of their advanced wood system, they are more expensive than traditional heating systems. We believe the proposed sales tax exemption would significantly defuse the initial cost barrier, resulting in further advanced wood heating systems being used around the state.

This was not our first use of renewable energy, nor will it be our last. 67 percent of our 48 Downstreet buildings have solar hot water systems, and 7 have renewable energy heating systems. Investing in renewable energy systems ensures the long-term viability of our properties by improving our efficiency, keeping energy costs at bay and contributing to local and state energy goals. We support the proposed sales tax exemption and look forward to many positive outcomes it may bring to and throughout our communities.