The draft NSPS appears to treat all biomass stoves, pellet or wood, catalytic or non-catalytic, the same and require that they emit no more than 4.5 grams of fine particulate emissions (PM2.5) per hour, a standard that has been in place in Washington State since 1995. The average pellet stove today emits about 2 grams per hour, already less than half of the proposed standards.
Hydronic heaters, commonly known as outdoor wood boilers, would also be held to existing standards that were developed about 5 years ago. However, the new NSPS would regulate sales and installations of these appliances across the entire country, instead of just the approximately 10 states that have adopted the voluntary EPA standard.
While the new NSPS may reflect the status quo in many states in the near future, it could become far stricter for both stoves and boilers. In 2019, the test method for measuring stove emissions could change, for example, from averaging four burn rates to using only the highest or lowest burn rate (depending on which one the stove has the hardest time passing). Some in the industry think this standard will be a death-blow for stove manufacturers. Other experts say it will be achievable, but the stoves that will be made may not be as appealing to consumers.
The written document EPA released this month did not contain any numerical limits that industry would have to meet in the future, but Gil Wood, EPA’s lead official on this NSPS verbally shared numbers with roomful of stove and boiler manufacturers who had gathered in Orlando Florida for the annual HBPA Expo. The Alliance for Green Heat requested a copy to make available to the public, which the EPA provided.
The EPA has backed off of creating a required minimum efficiency standard, which all other HVAC technology has, in favor of testing and publicly reporting efficiency to the consumer. The industry position is that reporting efficiency is sufficient and enables the consumer to decide if they want the equivalent of a gas guzzler or a gas miser as their home heating appliance.
There is much speculation about how the new EPA Administrator, Gina McCarthy, will impact the NSPS. Administrator McCarthy had been head of the air quality division at EPA and has a good working knowledge of solid fuel appliances. And, McCarthy has already reportedly asked tough questions about why fireplaces are not covered in this NSPS.
Many in industry are simply tired of an agency that appears to keep changing its mind about how strictly wood heating appliances should be regulated. As of last fall, EPA appeared to have something close to a final draft of the new NSPS that was more acceptable to industry but considered far too weak by many states.
States now appear to have strengthened their hand. By adopting a stepped approach, the new NSPS may do little to make stoves or boilers any cleaner before 2019 in the Northeast and Northwest, where states have already adopted standards that are as strict as or even stricter than what the EPA is proposing.
The most immediate impact upon promulgation, which could be in 2014, is that unregulated outdoor wood boilers would go off the market in all states. But there is a growing movement that feels even Test Method 28 WHH and standards for EPA qualified outdoor boilers still are deeply flawed, even after Method 28 OHH was improved to Method 28 WHH. It is still unclear how boilers will be tested for 2014 compliance and how existing voluntary tests will be validated.
Brookhaven National Laboratory recently completed a study that resulted in a new test method being created for both outdoor wood boilers and indoor boilers that have partial thermal storage. Funded mainly by NYSERDA with some support from EPA, this method draws upon the ASTM method and Method 28 WHH. It can be used instead of Method 28 WHH for any boiler with partial thermal storage. New York State has already accepted the test method which will help open up the state up to European and American boilers with thermal storage.
The Brookhaven Method is also similar to the ASTM Method 2618 and could replace that method as well, but has it has not yet been introduced into the ASTM process. The test method is more stringent than Method 28 and the European EN 303-5 but it may be a quicker and cheaper test for manufacturers to undertake. It is still unclear if the Brookhaven method could be part of this NSPS or not. That will likely depend on how much the states push for it and whether industry pushes back.
The EPA’s latest timetable suggests it will have a final draft of the new NSPS ready for internal review in April and the agency will publish the standard in the Federal Register this summer. Industry, states, non-profits and the public will then have 90 days within which to submit comments. The final rule would be promulgated and go into effect in the summer of 2014.
The EPA has yet to meet any of their timetables for this NSPS. There is always the chance that someone will sue the EPA simply to get a court-ordered timetable that it would have to adhere to. And, lawsuits based on substantive regulations are also possible, if not likely, from a variety of fronts, if acceptable compromises cannot be reached.