It may be summer, but many in New England are already thinking ahead to how they'll heat their homes this winter.
In Vermont, a new package of incentives has renewable energy advocates hoping more homeowners will make a switch to what they consider a game-changer in the race to cut carbon emissions.
When Susan Clark of Middlesex adjusts her thermostat, she's calling on a fuel source only a few hundred Vermont homeowners use today — but one renewable energy advocates hope will, in time, become much more commonplace: wood pellets.
"This is actually a lot like heating with oil, in that a big truck comes twice a year with a big hose that puts the fuel right into your house," Clark explained, noting that her home's wood pellet fuel source is as simple on her to use as older methods — she just adjusts the thermostat and the system responds automatically.
Clark's automated wood heating system sees compressed wood chunks burning not in a stove, but in a furnace that serves the whole home.
The writer happens to use solar panels for her family's hot water needs, but many advanced wood customers also burn pellets for their hot water.
Starting July 1, Vermont will waive the sales tax on these units for three years, believing the systems can help the state in its goal to reduce carbon emissions by relying less on fossil fuel sources like heating oil.
Proponents also predict a shift would spark local job growth in the logging and forestry industry, as opposed to sending money to out-of-state fossil fuel companies.
"We couldn't afford not to do it, because of the importance it would put on our rural economy," said Sen. Anthony Pollina, P/D-Washington County, who championed a bill in the Vermont Senate that aims to incentivize the purchase of automated wood heating systems by waiving the sales tax.
While many in Europe have been using advanced wood heating systems for some time, advocates noted an obstacle to their growth in the U.S. has been upfront costs.
Clark said her system was nearly $20,000 a few years ago — more than twice the price of a new oil setup.
Now, though, along with the sales tax elimination, another $3,000 in incentives are available to Vermonters from Efficiency Vermont, and $3,000 in incentives are available from the Clean Energy Development Fund.
Additionally, some people could get even more cash incentives based on their location — such as a $1,000 rebate from Washington Electric Co-op on certain purchases.
A full overview of incentives for wood heating systems can be found through Renewable Energy Vermont, a group that represents non-profits, businesses, utilities and individuals who want to boost clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency in the state.
Additionally, advocates argued that wood is far less subject to price fluctuations than oil.
"You also have lifetime savings, particularly on fuel, over time with the system," added Olivia Campbell Andersen, the executive director of Renewable Energy Vermont.
Clark said the new wood pellets are a lot cleaner than what people may imagine, based on old perceptions about hauling firewood into a stove.
"As a homeowner, it's a lot cleaner, in that there's not the dust or the wood chips," Clark told necn.
Campbell Andersen acknowledged that it'll take a lot of work to convince people to change to wood, especially if old methods seem so easy.
But her message is that alternatives to fossil fuels do exist, and with cash incentives now available, one future for home heating needs could be a lot closer than ever.