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Road Trip


B. Jobs and the Wood Heat Industry

The wood heat industry is an overwhelming domestic industry composed of many sectors, and is a significant source of US jobs. Perhaps the most immediately visible sector is the wood and pellet stove manufacturers and retailers, but other vibrant wood heat associated industries include replacement parts, accessories, installation, fuel harvesting and processing. 1Contractors generally charge $1-2,000 for wood or pellet stove installation, and the accessory industry is able to capitalize on the decorative, atmospheric function of wood and pellet stoves. The wood fuel industry has an incredibly job-dense supply chain; from forestry management officials, loggers and truck drivers, to pellet fuel manufacturers and distributors.

The fragmentary and localized nature of the thermal-biomass industry makes gaining specific statistics on employment in the sector difficult. However, some figures are available: A 2009 study by the USDA found that an estimated 2,300 people were employed in the pellet industry alone, a comparatively small part of the overall biomass market. 2The wood pellet sector produced 4.2 million tons of pellets in 2008, 3but due to the economic crisis, the production in 2009/2010 was lower than predicted. The industry group Hearth Patio and Barbeque Association (HBPA) reports that there were over 170,000 wood or pellet stoves sold in 2010 (Fig. 4).


Figure 4: 2010 wood & pellet stove shipping figures (Hearth Patio and Barbeque Association)

Much like other durable goods, the wood and pellet stove industry was hard hit by the 2009 economic recession. 4However in the last two years, sales figures have been stabilizing according to HPBA sales data, as the rise in fossil fuel price has traditionally corresponded to stronger interest in renewable wood heat. Regardless, the Hearth Industry is valued at roughly five billion a year. 5

The firewood industry is notoriously hard to quantify due to the localized nature of most firewood harvesters. Many firewood dealers, for instance, are individuals who operate out of their flat bed trailer and engage in the business as a secondary source of income. The Department of Energy calculates that 23 million cords of firewood are combusted for residential heating purposes annually6 and residential wood heating expenditures are almost 1.5 billion per year.7 8 The firewood industry is spread throughout the country. With regards to the wood products industry as a whole, the EPA reports that:


Figure 5: Fifty year consumption of cordwood & use of wood as a primary heating source (US Census Bureau & Energy Information Administration)


Figure 6: German renewable energy job growth (Heinrich Boll Foundation)

“Most of the industry is concentrated in the Pacific Northwest and the Southeast. However, concentrations are also found across the Midwest, the Northeast, and in Appalachia. Approximately 1/3 of the U.S. is forested. The area east of the Mississippi still contains a significant amount of forested acreage; 155 million acres are in the Northern States and 195 million acres are in the South. About 130 million acres of forested land is in Western States.”9

While wood resources may be concentrated in particular regions, there is likely to be small-scale wood harvest and sale going on wherever there are forest resources or other sources of wood available such as urban wood waste. It is because firewood is so affordable and easy to self-harvest in so many communities that the firewood industry is largely untracked.

Concrete employment figures are available in some European countries like Germany, which have aggressively supported local biomass industries. Between 2000 and 2004 Germany witnessed the creation of 280,000 jobs in the renewable energy sector, 95,800 alone in biomass, the largest proportion of the total (Fig. 6). 10 This total is only expected to grow as renewables increasingly dominate Germany’s energy sector, and it represents the potential for similar job growth in the United States.

The collaboration project, Heating the Northeast with Renewable Energy: A Vision for 2025, envisions a similar future for the northeastern section of the US if 25% of home heating fuel was derived from biomass. Part of this study was an estimate of the number of permanent jobs that would be created if this scenario were to be realized. It was found that over 140,000 jobs would be created across the region using conservative estimates of extractable biomass potential. 11Similar if not greater job creation could occur in the southeast and northwest.

Some incentive programs are designed specifically with an economic focus and seek to stimulate some aspect of this industry (see Chapter 5, Section A: New Hampshire Rebate Program). Generally all biomass appliance programs will assist several sectors of this industry, which in turn will provide continuing support for local economies. Even programs that assist the consumer with the upfront purchase of a wood heating device will have a lasting effect on the local economy as these consumers connect with local fuel suppliers.

1 Many wood stove companies derive a large section of their profits from the replacement part industry-which for some regions looking to eliminate old wood stoves can have a negative effect of keeping poorly designed stoves operational longer.
2 Spelter, Henry and Toth, Daniel, North America’s Wood Pellet Sector. United States Department of Agriculture, 2009.
3 Spelter, Henry and Toth, Daniel, North America’s Wood Pellet Sector. United States Department of Agriculture, 2009.
4 Don Johnson, HPBA 1998-2010 Shipping figures. Hearth Patio & Barbeque Association. 2010
5 Don Johnson, HPBA 2010 Shipping figures. Hearth Patio & Barbeque Association. 2010
6 Energy Information Administration State Energy Data System. Table 8:Residential Sector Energy Consumption Estimates, Selected Years, 1960-2008. 2008. <>
7 Energy Information Administration State Energy Data System. Table F25:Wood and Biomass Waste Price and Expenditure Estimates, 2009. 2009 <>
8 The disparity in cords burned and expenditures indicates the large percentage of wood users who self-harvest.
9 EPA Office of Compliance. Profile of the Lumber and Wood Products Industry. 1995. Pg 4.
10 Arne Jungjohann & Björn Jahnke, Europe: Creating New Jobs with Renewable Energies, Heinrich Boll Foundation, 2009
11 Heating the Northeast with Renewable Energy. A Bold Vision for 2025. Pg. 11

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