Warmed by a rule-making opportunity
Opponents and supporters of a proposal to regulate wood-fired boilers packed a Beacon Hill hearing this week.
The bill would prohibit wood-fired boilers within 200 feet - 900 feet would be better, some critics say - of the house nearby, and the boiler's chimney would have to reach above roof lines. It's anti-wood smoke legislation.
Cordwood is certainly a renewable energy resource, but apparently not one in favor these days. Those among you who are children of earlier back to the land movements will remember that building a passive solar house with a backup Jotul was all the rage at one time. And there were wood-fired boilers in those days, heating hot water to heat older non-passive solar houses. You could see the results curling from the chimneys of the cluster of houses that formed the lovely village that appeared as you wound down the road into a Vermont valley on a cold, windless day, when you were driving north to go skiing.
One critic of the boilers told the committee the wood fire fumes ought to be treated the way second-hand cigarette smoke is. And Jeff Seyler, chief executive of the American Lung Association of New England, told the legislature's committee on environment, natural resources, and agriculture that the wood-fired boilers are a "health hazard." The American Lung Association of New England wants tougher rules to quell the smoke, but he said the state ought to regulate them on a case-by-case basis. One supposes he meant a lacerating, neighborhood battle-by-battle basis.
A debate over wood-fired boilers broke out in Tisbury last year began when residents complained about smoke and emissions from two units operated by their neighbors. The Tisbury board of health approved a one-year moratorium, to review the health effects of the smoke and associated emissions from the furnaces and consider creating rules.
The health officials put new regulations in place in August limiting the use of the furnaces and requiring permits. Wood-fired boilers must be no less than 900 feet from any nearby house. Only dry, seasoned wood may be used.
There are almost certainly more rules to come, if not outright bans, in the sort of neighborhoods in which most of us live. Asked to make rules or even banish certain time-honored practices, particularly those with delightful money-saving appeal, not to mention fragrant byproducts, what member of the state House and Senate can resist? The old days - when Islanders looked forward to the traditional, multiple benefits of cutting, splitting, and hauling wood and then burning it, each effort contributing a measure of needed warmth - have certainly ended.