AUGUSTA, Maine — State environmental regulators are seeking public comments on a plan to impose setback requirements on outdoor furnaces that burn wood pellets.
In 2007, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection adopted new rules that set emissions standards for outdoor wood boilers and limited how close the increasingly popular heat sources could be placed relative to property lines and neighboring buildings.
In subsequent legislation, lawmakers directed the department to expand those rules to include outdoor boilers that burn pellets rather than cord wood.
The department and the Board of Environmental Protection are seeking public comment on a proposal to require setback requirements of 100 to 270 feet depending on the emissions rating of the unit.
The department also is proposing a lower setback requirement — 20 feet from the nearest property line and 40 feet from the nearest dwelling — in order to encourage consumers to install the cleanest-burning units. It is on this lower setback proposal that the department is seeking most comments.
The DEP originally proposed setting that emission limit at 0.20 pounds of particulate per million Btu of heat output. But on Thursday, board members changed that to comply with a recommendation from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for an emissions limit of 0.06 pounds per million Btu.
Board members opted to proceed with the stricter emissions limit with the understanding that they could go back to the higher limit, if necessary. The EPA has certified one outdoor pellet boiler that would meet the 0.06 emissions limit.
“There have been so many problems with outdoor wood boilers, and I believe in being as cautious as possible, particularly when we are dealing with something new,” said board member Wing Goodale.
The DEP adopted emissions caps and setback requirements for outdoor wood boilers after the state received dozens of complaints from neighbors who said they were being inundated by smoke from neighbors’ units.
But state officials point out that is a small percentage of the total number of outdoor wood boilers that have been installed in the state in recent years as consumers seek cheaper, homegrown alternatives to heating oil.