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State aims to spark wood-for-heat plan

Troy Boiler Works employees have built four high-efficiency, wood
pellet-fired boilers in the past year, with six more scheduled in coming
months. Lou Okonski,
Troy Boiler Works president and manager of the unit that makes these
boilers, Evoworld, hopes a new $27 million state program will mean a lot
more orders in the future.

Cash incentives announced Tuesday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo are aimed at stimulating more heat in homes and businesses from “good, old-fashioned wood” harvested in the state, said state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens, who was one of the officials at the boiler works to unveil the program.

Such incentives for commercial and residential buyers, through New York State Energy Research and Development Authority,
will “help increase demand for wood pellets and decrease costs for
smaller residential and commercial customers as the market grows,” said
NYSERDA President and CEO John Rhodes.

Funded by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a program that charges for power plant emissions, the incentives are part of a $250 million package under the state Renewable Portfolio Standard to fund clean energy projects such as wind farms, fuel cells, renewable
biogas and upgrading small- to medium-size hydropower projects.

is seen as a carbon neutral energy resource because the carbon dioxide —
a greenhouse gas linked to global climate change — released when trees
are burned is balanced by growing trees. Trees remove CO2 from the
atmosphere and store it in their wood.

In Troy, Okonski said four
workers make the Austrian-designed wood boilers, and he is trying to
hire two more. “I hope that we can start selling from 50 to 100 boilers a
year,” he said. That could mean up to 15 more jobs at the works.

NYSERDA program also will offer up to $4,000 to people who replace
older, polluting, outdoor wood-fired boilers, with newer, more-efficient
indoor models that will burn either pellets or cordwood. Even though
the state adopted tougher pollution rules for outdoor wood boilers in
2011, thousands of such units remain in use, primarily in rural areas,
and some smoke-belchers have sparked air pollution complaints
by neighbors.

Other incentives from NYSERDA include:

For homeowners, from $1,000 to $1,500 for pellet stoves, and up to $4,000 for cordwood boilers.

For small businesses, up to $4,000 for cordwood boilers, and up to $20,000 for pellet boilers.

For large businesses, up to $100,000 for pellet boilers and up to $150,000 for tandem pellet boilers.

for residential pellet boilers will be announced next year. Martens
said the state also will encourage greater harvesting of wood to fuel
such boilers.

Currently, there are five wood-fired boiler makers in the state, including Evoworks and Schenectady-based Advanced Climate Technologies in the Capital Region, and six manufacturers of wood pellets, said Ellen Burkhard, a project manager at NYSERDA.

Air pollution from wood boilers has been a concern of the American Lung Association of the Northeast. “Burning wood is not necessarily a green technology from a public health perspective,” said association Vice President Michael Seilback.

his group supports state efforts to remove older, polluting models, it
remains concerned that the state is incentivizing the burning of wood.
“We would be very upset if RGGI funding was being used to subsidize a
dirtier technology and slapping a green label on it.”

In a
statement, the governor, who announced the wood technology subsidy in
his State of the State address this spring, said “the wood-fired heating
industry is an important source of energy in upstate … we are helping
to shape this growing sector with a focus on clean, sustainable, and
highly efficient practices.”

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