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Wanted: Dollars For Dirty Wood Stoves

January 12, 2010 - AUGUSTA -- Consider it northern New England's version of "cash for clunkers."

Mainers could soon get paid to retire their dirty old wood stoves so they can afford to buy new, cleaner ones. The basic idea is to clear the air, so the people living near smoky chimneys don't have to breathe the tiny particles that damage their lungs and make them ill.

It also would cut heating costs, advocates say, because the new stoves are more efficient and burn less wood.

And it may be as popular with Jotul and Vermont Castings as the federal government's "cash for clunkers" program was with Toyota and Ford.

New wood stoves generate the same amount of heat with one-third less wood than 25-year-old stoves, and they can release one-tenth of the particle pollution, said state Rep. Henry Beck, D-Waterville.

"Citizens in my district have reported noxious concentrations of wood smoke from their neighbors' chimneys surrounding and entering their homes," he said.

Beck presented the idea to the Legislature's Natural Resources committee during a public hearing Friday. He is the bill's lead sponsor, although it was written by the Department of Environmental Protection, which would run the program.

The DEP estimates that Maine homes contain 53,000 wood stoves that were manufactured before 1990, when federal standards started requiring cleaner-burning designs.

"We have a lot of old technology out there," said Jim Brooks, director of the DEP's Bureau of Air Quality. "A lot of that technology's been out there 40 or 50 years and it's still being used."

Lawmakers aren't considering putting any money into the program, only creating the fund so that the DEP can go out and find grants. Some future air pollution fines also might go into the fund.

"We have no money in our wallet, but we want the permission to put money in our wallet," Brooks said.

One of the first places the DEP will look, of course, is the same federal stimulus pot that paid to retire all those older, gas-guzzling, air-polluting cars. And money could become available this year if Congress passes a new clean energy bill.

The details of the program haven't been worked out, but could take shape when the Natural Resources Committee discusses the proposal later this month.

"It will involve some sort of rebate with the idea that the (old) stoves will be destroyed and recycled," Brooks said.

The rebate may go toward the purchase of a new stove, either a traditional one that burns logs or a pellet stove. Mainers who use their stoves as their primary heat source could get higher priority.

Maine wouldn't be the first state to retire old stoves.

Vermont used a similar program to replace about 200 wood stoves in 2009, according to Brooks.

Vermonters got about $450 each to turn in their cast-iron clunkers. A similar program in New Hampshire offered $1,000 toward a new stove.

The idea got a warm and cozy reception from lawmakers Friday. One was even eager to add wood-fired furnaces into the deal.

Brooks said he isn't sure there is money to retire furnaces. But he's hoping the state can land $1 million or more to scrap smoky stoves.

"We're ready to go," he said. "We just need the OK."

JOHN RICHARDSON, Portland Press Herald, January 9, 2010


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