Vermont looks to light a fire on wood-heating, hires new state position

JERICHO, Vt. (WCAX) Vermont leaders just created a new job focused on wood energy. The goal is to light a fire under businesses and schools to switch over to a wood-heating system.

"So this is the inside of the system," said Phil Graff, the facilities director at Mount Mansfield Union High School, showing off the furnace that keeps kids warm.

Mount Mansfield Union High School is one of 60 schools in the state that uses a wood-heating system.

Chips are dumped into two garage-like bins outside, travel inside using conveyor belts and then burned in a huge furnace.

"I don't find it more work, but it's definitely more maintenance," said Graff.

Graff says they have to remove ash every few hours and clean out the soot.

So why do it this way?

"It's very inexpensive," said Graff. "I heat this building just for-- it's 160,000 square feet-- we heat it for $50,000 or under."

According to a report done by a Jeff Forward, a consultant, the high school saved about $1 million over 10 years when comparing the cost of wood chips to fuel oil.

"It's really a new take on an old technology," said Emma Hanson, the state's new wood energy coordinator.

While Vermont reportedly leads the nation in the use of modern wood heating in schools, homes and businesses, the goal is to double that number by 2035.

That's one reason why the state created the wood energy coordinator position for Hanson.

"Honestly, I think for a lot of people they just don't know that there's a lot of different ways to heat with wood heat that's not getting out your ax and piling cord wood anymore," said Hanson.

Hanson says it usually does cost more money upfront to install a wood-heating system, but that money is saved over time and jobs are created.

"When we heat with fossil fuels in Vermont, 78 cents of every heating dollar leaves the state," said Hanson. "When we heat with local wood, all those resources stay right here in the state, creating jobs in our community."

She also says the modern way of burning wood is better for the environment than fossil fuels, as it's a resource that grows back.

"Currently we're growing 50 percent more in terms of usable lumber than it's harvesting," said Hanson.

It's not just schools choosing to go with wood heating, coming up next week on the Channel 3 Morning News, Alexandra Montgomery heads to a home that made the switch.