By BDN Staff
Bangor Daily News

We are facing a season of crisis in Maine. Last year we Mainers spent nearly $1.4 billion on home heating oil with expenditures approaching $2 billion likely this year. The vast majority of that money quickly leaves the Maine and U.S. economies. Every $1 increase in the cost of heating oil costs Maine homeowners roughly $4 million. This is money the Maine economy can scarcely afford. Many in Maine will struggle with fundamental living expenses this winter. Anything any of us can do to temper that struggle should be embraced, and information about the real economic, social and environmental effects of our energy consumption choices should be openly and honestly discussed.

The BDN’s headline writer is to be applauded for having correctly summarized the substance of the data presented in a recent press release by the Maine Oil Dealers’ Association as “Study: Pellet stoves pollute more than oil furnaces” (BDN, July 24). One large Maine newspaper headlined the same Associated Press article “Study: Pellets burn dirtier than oil.” Arguably, this is precisely the conclusion the Maine Oil Dealers’ Association wanted the public to reach when it used the very odd comparison between a central heating oil system and a space heating wood pellet stove as the basis for its combustion cleanliness announcements. Evidently clarification was not the intent of the announcement. If space heaters were to be compared, the emissions comparison between a kerosene space heater and a pellet stove might have been quite interesting and more relevant.

Information about the emissions of modern pellet-fired boilers is available and could have been used by the Maine Oil Dealers’ Association to make a comparison between like systems for consideration by the public. Based on information from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Swedish National Energy Administration, gas furnaces produce .0083 pounds of particulate per million BTU, oil boilers produce 0.013 pounds of particulate per million BTUs, pellet fired boilers produce 0.040 pounds of particulate per million BTU, pellet stoves produce 0.49 pounds of particulate per million BTU, and certified EPA wood stoves produce 1.4 pounds of particulate per million BTU. Older wood stoves and fireplaces produce much larger quantities of particulate than any of these devices.

The data demonstrate the relationships in particulate emission from various fuel sources burned in appliances in good working order. Of course, there are many meaningful emissions considerations beyond particulate that deserve discussion as we compare renewable and fossil fuels; they will surely receive attention as time goes on.

It is responsible to discuss various home heating fuels and their merits, particularly in a time of volatile fuel prices. The public is best served when the media act as BDN has by allowing and encouraging broad discussion of issues of such enormous import and refusing to be misled by illogical comparisons.

Harry H. Dresser Jr. is director of Maine Energy Systems LLC, a Bethel company that is promoting and selling high-efficiency, European pellet boilers.