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40th wood pellet boiler installed in Model Neighborhood Program

December 11, 2013
BERLIN — The Model Neighborhood Project reached its target of installing 40 wood pellet boilers on Wednesday, Dec. 4, in residential homes in the City That Trees Built, when a young homeowner took delivery of her new boiler. The first 39 participating homes plus two non-profit organizations had already surpassed expectations for how much the project would impact the local and regional economy.

"I was looking for a low-cost, low-maintenance, efficient heating system for my new home," the new owner explained. "It was great to find wood pellets as an alternative to oil, and thanks to the Model Neighborhood Project I was able to install a pellet boiler." She and her son live in a quiet neighborhood on the East Side.

"We're so pleased with the response from the people of Berlin who have been eager to try these highly-efficient, fully-automated wood pellet boilers and prove how well they work," said Rob Riley, president of the Northern Forest Center, in a prepared statement. "Every penny they've spent on wood pellets has stayed in the Northern Forest economy and helped create forest-based jobs."

Since early 2012, when a handful of Berlin homeowners took delivery of wood pellets instead of oil for the first time, participants have saved $75,000 and kept 522 net tons of carbon dioxide out of the air. The total positive economic impact of the project is estimated to be more than $288,000. The ongoing results can be seen on an online dashboard at www.northernforest.org/berlin_dashboard.html.

"Heating with wood as a renewable fuel from the forest has great potential to be an economic driver for our region," said Riley. "Instead of exporting 78 cents of every dollar when we buy oil, we can keep every penny of every dollar here in the regional economy by using sustainably harvested, locally manufactured wood pellets."

The Northern Forest Center, Berlin BetterBuildings, and Maine Energy Systems launched the Model Neighborhood Project in the fall of 2011 with the goal of helping the Northern Forest region move away from dependence on imported oil toward a local energy source that will create jobs and strengthen the forest economy.

"The Model Neighborhood Project has been a great success in Berlin," said Les Otten, director of Maine Energy Systems. "The increased demand for boilers allowed us to reduce the cost of our standard domestic model by 18 percent. These early adopters are helping to spread this technology and making it easier for others to convert from oil to wood pellet heat."

The BetterBuildings program helped Berlin residents and businesses improve the energy efficiency of their buildings and helped recruit residents to the Model Neighborhood Project. The customer service and support that Berlin BetterBuildings former director Cimbria Badenhausen provided to residents was one of the keys to the success of the Model Neighborhood Project.

In the next phase of the Model Neighborhood Project in Berlin, the Northern Forest Center will continue monitoring the wood pellet systems, reporting on project results and helping participants share their positive experience with others. The Center will also work with professionals in the real estate, insurance and banking arenas to build understanding of the pellet boilers as highly reliable and an asset to the value of the home.

In June, the Northern Forest Center launched a second Model Neighborhood Project to serve the communities of Farmington and Wilton, Maine, and is also developing projects for both the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont and the Adirondacks.

Beyond ongoing spending on wood pellets, the Model Neighborhood Project has resulted in more than $800,000 of capital investment for purchase and installation of the boilers. Homeowners covered 36 percent of the costs and the Northern Forest Center subsidized 39 percent; rebates through the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission (PUC) covered 25 percent.

The PUC rebates are available statewide for qualified wood pellet boilers and continue as long as funds last. The rebate provides up to 30 percent of the system and installation cost or $6,000, whichever is less, for homeowners who buy qualifying systems. Program information is online at https://www.puc.nh.gov/Sustainable%20Energy/RenewableEnergyRebates-WP.html.

Maine Energy Systems, based in Bethel, Maine, will continue to market wood pellet boilers to homeowners and businesses in Berlin and the region. Other pellet boiler manufacturers also serve the region.

Foundations, individuals and corporations that purchased tax credits through the Community Development Finance Authority have supported the Model Neighborhood Project. Tax credit purchasers include Northway Bank, Lyme Timber Company, First Colebrook Bank, Bank of New Hampshire, Bow Junction Associates, Checkmate Payroll Services, Citizens Bank, Cooper Cargill Chant, P.A., Common Man, , Global Forest Partners, Grappone Automotive Group, H.E. Bergeron Engineers, Louis Karno & Company, Nathan Wechsler & Co. PA, Northland Forest Products, the Portsmouth Brewery, Stonyfield Farm, and TransCanada USA.

The Neil & Louise Tillotson Fund, Jane's Trust, the John Merck Fund, and the US Endowment for Forestry & Communities provided grant support.

The Northern Forest Center is a nonprofit organization that helps create economic opportunity and community vitality from healthy working forests in four states: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York.

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