Panel to discuss wood furnaces for outdoor use

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PARIS – Burning wood is an attractive alternative to fossil fuels for many, but even wood has its issues.

This Thursday, the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine is hosting a panel discussion about outdoor wood burning furnaces and has invited the Department of Environmental Protection, vendors and some homeowners who use the heating device.

“There’s a growing interest,” Bill Haynes said, and at the same time, the DEP is in the middle of a regulatory process to possibly establish emissions standards and setbacks from neighbors. Haynes is the president of SWOAM’s Western Maine chapter. “We all hope to learn more about what is going on,” he added.

The panel discussion is at 7 p.m. Jan. 18 at the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in Paris.

The heating appliances, which cost around $5,000, are outdoor wood-fired boilers, originally created for farmhouses in rural areas. They burn wood to heat water, which is pumped through underground pipes to heat a home and its indoor plumbing system. In Maine, about 2,000 households use them, and across the nation, there are estimates of 150,000 furnaces.

But as more people seek substitutes to fossil fuels to avoid paying high oil prices and contributing to global warming, wood boilers are not exactly turning out to be the perfect remedy. Neighbors complain about the smoke and particulate matter from the appliances. Some towns and states are putting restrictions on them or banning them outright.

“They produce a lot of smoke,” Louis Fontaine of the Bureau of Air Quality said. “The ones we’re concentrating on are particulate matter It is the same emissions that come out of wood stoves, but you have a lot more of them.”

He said he has data that shows one wood boiler is comparable to 22 federally regulated wood stoves or 205 oil furnaces, and that the particulate matter can be hazardous.

SWOAM has also invited Terry and Bruce Markham to speak on the panel. The Markhams own Best-Way Wood Heat Inc. in Readfield and have sold between 400 and 450 outdoor wood burners since 1994.

Terry Markham said she was wary about talking to the media because of all the bad publicity the boilers have received, but decided to speak up nonetheless.

“They are making assumptions comparing the stove to two diesel trucks running by your house all day,” Terry Markham said, referring to the American Lung Association of Maine in particular, which has fought to regulate the boilers. “I would like to see the proof in print, personally.”

She argued that the wood furnaces also fit many people’s environmental ethos and can help cut home heating bills, especially if homeowners supply their own wood.

“They do save people money from burning fossil fuels, which most of the scientific community agrees is adding to the greenhouse effect,” she said.

She is not opposed to restrictions or regulations, but said she does want them to be reasonable, such as establishing setbacks from neighbors and applying new Environmental Protection Agency guidelines for the furnaces. And she and her husband have always advised people who live in more rural areas, rather than people in tight neighborhoods, to purchase the devices, she said.

“We don’t need to make it a political battle,” she said.

She later stressed that all the parties should work together in a common-sense approach.

Haynes, who owns a boiler himself and a sawmill, said, “I love it. It’s ideal for woodland owners because they have the wood, and they don’t have close neighbors.”

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