By: Sen. Susan M. Collins
With inflation at a 40-year high, the soaring cost of virtually everything, from groceries to gasoline, is a growing crisis.
The skyrocketing price of energy in particular is causing hardships by straining family budgets and increasing costs at every step of the supply chain. Mainers are also concerned about the rapidly rising cost of home heating oil. As of early June, the average price per gallon was $5.42, more than double what it was a year earlier. More than 60 percent of Maine homes use fuel oil, and a typical family will spend about $2,500 more per year at current prices.
Heating oil now costs $39.08 per million Btu. In contrast, wood pellets provide that same amount of heat for just $18.91. The only heat source that comes in at a lower cost is cord wood.
Wood energy is a growing part of the overall forest economy, creating good jobs and new opportunities for our forest workforce. I have long supported the use of wood energy to counter the effects of climate change and to improve our environment and our forest products industry. Pellets provide a market for low-grade, low-value wood that landowners routinely remove to promote healthy forests. Now, more than ever, wood pellets can help provide relief to the budgets of households and businesses.
I recently co-sponsored bipartisan legislation that would help more Maine households and businesses use energy-efficient biomass heaters instead of relying on fossil fuels. In 2020, after years of advocacy from the Maine delegation, a 26 percent tax credit available through the end of 2023 for highly efficient residential wood heating systems became law. This Congress, the updated Biomass Thermal Utilization (BTU) Act would provide tax credits for capital costs incurred in commercial and industrial installations, and it would also extend the residential credit passed last year through 2028. Several years ago, I achieved a breakthrough for this emerging energy sector by convincing the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to classify wood pellet boilers as primary heating sources for the purpose of Federal Housing Authority financing.
With more than 750 million acres of forestland, the United States is blessed with abundant forest resources. More than 17 million of those acres are in the State of Maine, where forest products are both our history and our future. We reject the false choice of pitting the environment against the economy because, in the Pine Tree State, the environment is the economy.
America’s working forests are sustained by strong partnerships between federal and state agencies, research scientists from leading universities, as well as the local landowners and foresters whose livelihoods depend on sustainable forests and promoting conservation. The result is that our working forests are thriving, and we have set the bar globally for productive forest management.
Biomass energy is sustainable, responsible, renewable, and economically significant as an energy source. Many states, including Maine, are already relying on biomass to meet their renewable energy goals. The carbon neutrality of biomass harvested from sustainably managed forests has been recognized repeatedly by numerous studies, agencies, institutions, and rules around the world.
Protecting our environment and our forests for current and future generations is a shared goal. Wood energy is a sustainable, responsible, renewable, and economically viable way to achieve it.