Top 10 stories in 2017 for wood and pellet heating

2017 may not have been the most momentous year for wood and pellet stoves, but every year is full of important stories and these are what we see as the top 10. Think we missed one of 2017’s top stories?  Leave a comment.
      1. Wood stove sales lag
Warmer winters and lower fossil fuel prices are likely the main causes of continued sluggish sales of wood stoves and inserts in 2017.  Gas appliances continue to gain in popularity.  The 2015 EPA regulations are rarely cited as contributing to the current malaise in the market, and local restrictions are unlikely to have much of an impact either.  The final weeks of 2017 and first week of 2018 brought arctic temperatures to much of the US, boosting sales of both pellets and stoves.  But will it last?
2. Funding for change out programs rolled back
Whoever thought a motorcycle company would deal a big blow to the stove industry?  To be fair, it had little to do with motorcycles and a lot to do with the Trump Administration wanting to do away with out-of-court air quality violations settlements that allowed polluters to pay part of their fine in programs that improve air quality.  Harley Davidson happened to be the poster child of companies willing to support a change out program, but not allowed to do so by the Trump Administration.  That pipeline of funding, up to 10 million a year, is now cut off, dealing another blow to programs seeking to get people to part ways with their old wood stove, and exchange it for a new pellet, gas or wood stove.
3. Congress – lots of expectation but no action
Three key initiatives – the BTU Act, the NSPS delay and the biomass heater tax credit – did not come to fruition in 2017.  All three initiatives remain in play in 2018, but with each passing month, 2018 will get more consumed by the fall election season. The BTU Act would help the entire biomass thermal energy sector and has some key backers, such as Senator Susan Collins (R-ME). The bills to delay NSPS deadlines by 3 years passed committees, largely on party lines.  With the razor thin majority in the Senate, Democratic support for these initiatives may be more important in 2018.
4. Cordwood test methods are on the rise
The ASTM E3053 cord wood test protocol developed largely by industry members was completed and is now an accepted alternative test method.  However, companies don’t appear to be lining up to use it to certify their stoves.  Meanwhile, NESCAUM is taking the lead in designing what they say is a much more realistic cordwood test method as it takes into account more frequent reloading.  That method appears to have EPA’s interest and may be more likely to be referenced by the federal and/or state governments.
5. The renewable energy movement gains steam, helping pellet systems
Despite a President who champions coal and fossil fuels, the renewable energy movement is gaining ground worldwide.  Automated pellet and chip heating systems are being installed more rapidly in Europe and are gaining wider acceptance in the US.  Pellet stoves and boilers are also becoming more recognized in green building circles.  Campuses, towns, cities and states striving to reduce fossil fuel use usually start with electricity and transition to green heating options. 
6. Anti-wood smoke groups gain legitimacy
In 2017, we saw a rise of clean air groups campaigning for more restrictions on wood stove installation and use.  Some of the core activists emerged years ago when their communities or homes were subjected to excessive smoke from outdoor wood boilers.  In 2017, the focus shifted more to wood stoves, mostly in communities in the West, but to some extent in the Northeast.  Often, tensions rose over lack of enforcement by local jurisdictions who didn’t have the resources, training and/or political will to deal with those creating excessive smoke.  Overall there is a growing recognition that wood smoke is a serious health concern and debates in local and state forums will likely grow in coming years.
7.  Consolidation of stove and pellet plants continues
In the wood and pellet stove world, Hearth & Home Technologies (HHT) did not announce major new acquisitions in 2017, but the company consolidated by moving Quadra-Fire and Vermont Castings production to its Pennsylvania facility.  However, 2017 also saw market share continue to slip away from higher-priced manufacturers like most HHT brands to the lower priced manufacturers that sell from hardware chains.  On the wood pellet front, Lignetics continued its buying spree, finalizing a deal to acquire New England Wood Pellet at the very end of 2017. 
8. DOE co-sponsors Wood Stove Design Challenge
After many years of sitting on the sidelines of thermal biomass, the Department of Energy found an entre in the 2018 Wood Stove Design Challenge.  DOE is providing funding and its PR department is issuing news releases, lending greater credibility and a higher profile to the event.  The competition features automated stoves and stoves that produce electricity to supplement wintertime solar PV output, showcasing new roles that wood stoves could play if they run more reliably cleaner in real world settings.  The competition will also showcase cordwood testing protocols and fossil fuel reductions achievable by wood stoves compared to solar panels.
9. NY, MD and MA recognize efficiency in stove programs
In 2017, three states began using efficiency criteria to determine eligibility in incentive or change out programs.  NY now requires pellet stoves to have verified efficiencies on the EPA list of certified stoves.  MD & MA provide higher incentives for stoves with verified efficiencies, as Oregon does, but with a far simpler formulas.  The rampant practice by most manufacturers of providing misleading and exaggerated efficiency values – a practice not tolerated in other HVAC sectors – motivated these states to act.
10. The new EPA wood heater regulations move forward
OK, 2017 was not a big news year for the new heater regulations, known as the NSPS.  But in 2017 all large forced air wood furnaces were required to be certified (including smaller ones who pretended to be large to evade certification in 2016).  In April, there were only six EPA certified furnaces ranging from 48% to 89% efficiency, now there are 16.  2017 was a pivotal year in that it marked the midpoint between 2015 and 2020, when all heaters must meet stricter emission standards.  And, with each passing month, more heaters become 2020 compliant as manufacturers hedge their bets in case Congress, the Administration or the courts do not derail the 2020 deadline. In 2017, some exciting new innovation hit the market, including automated MF Fire Catalyst, the Optima designed just to burn pressed logs and more coming soon.

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