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'Stove Swap' program targets dirty wood stoves

If you own a wood-burning stove that was built prior to 1990, chances are that you could benefit from an upgrade to a newer, more efficient stove. And you may qualify for some help thanks to Project Stove Swap, a program launched Tuesday to help Northland residents switch to cleaner-burning stoves

"Basically, the project is an opportunity to swap out older, less-efficient wood-burning devices for newer, cleaner-burning devices," said Mike Harley, executive director of Environmental Initiative, which is spearheading the program in partnership with Minnesota Power.

With a total budget of about $900,000, Project Stove Swap works with Minnesota heating appliance manufacturers and retailers, providing financial incentives to encourage the purchase of newer, more-efficient stoves.

"The subsidy is going to depend on the piece of equipment you have and also your income level. It could range from $325 all the way up to $10,000," Harley said.

Mikey Weitekamp, senior project manager for Environmental Initiative, explained that the exact number of stoves to be replaced through the program remains undetermined and will be affected by the mix of stove owners who step forward. "But we'd expect to replace somewhere around 200 to 250," he said.

Harley described multiple benefits, saying: "You're able to save money. You're able to help clean the air. You're creating a safer environment for yourself and those who you're with. And you're also helping to build the local economy."

The initial project targets 17 counties in Northeastern Minnesota, but Harley said he hopes to build on the model and offer it statewide eventually.

Amy Rutledge, manager of corporate communication for Minnesota Power, said Project Stove Swap fits well with the company's mission.

"We think that this project is a wonderful complement to our already strong conservation and energy efficiency programs, where we work with our customers, both residential and businesses, to help them identify ways to save energy and save on their bills, as well," she said.

Harley noted that new high-efficiency stoves often can provide the same heat output as their older counterparts while consuming about one-third the firewood.

"Project Stove Swap also fits in with Minnesota Power's Energy Forward strategy," Rutledge said. "We've been working hard to diversity our energy mix by bringing significant amounts of renewables onto our system and also investing in our existing power plants to reduce emissions there."

She pointed to improvements Minnesota Power has made to reduce emissions at the Hibbard Renewable Energy Center, a Duluth power facility fueled primarily with wood biomass.

"I think that Project Stove Swap does that on a smaller scale, working with our residential and our business customers, to reduce emissions and help maintain the clean air and clean water that we all value so much in this region," Rutledge said.

Harley noted that the majority of air pollution today comes from small, dispersed, local sources, such as poorly running cars, small businesses, garbage burning and residential wood burning.

"This is a way to help clean up the air," he said. "By replacing one stove, you can reduce pollution equivalent to taking 700 cars off the road a year. So that's a really big dent that one person or one family or one household or one business can make."

For more information on the program and to view a map of participating stove vendors, visit environmental-initiative.org/our-work/clean-air/project-stove-swap.

Questions may also be directed to Mikey Weitekamp of Environmental Initiative at (612) 334-3388.

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