Wood fires have been central to people’s lives for hundreds of thousands of years. Then came the march of coal, electric heaters appeared in the thirties, by the sixties people were installing ‘modern’ central heating systems that were quick, easy and cheap to run, but outmoded in turn when far more energy efficient boilers appeared on the market. Change doesn’t just pause in the way we might like it to pause … it carries right on, sometimes at breakneck speed. There is a balance to be struck with any fuel. You can’t just chop down forests, and forget about the long-term effects, anymore than you can fill the air with coal smog and expect people to be healthy or ignore the fact that oil wells won’t refill themselves. In the face of change, what is the place of wood fuel today?
At the centre of old Celtic and English life was the ‘Hearth.’ It had social significance … being an excellent place to chew bones, tell stories, drink mead etc … but was also essential to survival, especially during harsh winter weather. There remains a symbolic importance attached to keeping the glowing embers of the fire alive. Some people still love the rhythm and security that tending a wood fire or stove brings, but many others have lives that don’t allow for tending a fire all day or sweeping the ashes. With so many people to keep warm in winter and such busy lives, how can wood energy be truly relevant and sustainable today?
“People do understand that wood sources need to be sustainable” says Mandy Brick at Light Foot Energy, “ and some people are still emotionally attached to their stoves and the rhythm that maintaining a fire brings to their lives. But a lot of people under 40 don’t feel they have the finance and time that a stove demands.”
As ‘big oil’ roots around for new supplies, there is a clear need for people to take cleaner and more sustainable energy solutions seriously. You don’t have to think too big … small and local possibilities are popping up all over the place. Take a place like South Herefordshire.
Woolhope Woodheat is a 100% community owned wood co-op. It’s also a proper, well thought out enterprise with workable social and environmental objectives and sound economic principals too. By providing a market for wood fuel, Woolhope plans to bring unmanaged woodland back into balanced, productive use, providing fuel whilst increasing wildlife habitat and biodiversity and reducing carbon emissions.
Not only that but the co-operative gathers, dries and chips its own wood fuel to high quality standards and this fuel will be used in clean burn, super efficient boilers, also supplied and maintained by the co-operative.
To qualify for a boiler
Your building or premises must meet certain criteria. The boilers are designed to replace oil, LPG or electricity, where current bills exceed £5,000 per year, and you have to be in Herefordshire. But if you meet the criteria and you want to work with a green, community-based organisation, Woolhope can offer you a great deal: a heat price 20% less than oil, guaranteed for 20 years and they will install, service and maintain a top quality clean burning woodchip boiler at your premises free of charge and provide it with locally sourced fuel. Even if you don’t qualify for a boiler …
You are eligible to purchase Community Shares
The co-operative opened community share offers for the wood supply operation early this May. It is the first scheme of its kind in the UK and the documentation is impressive and beautifully produced. You can get in contact with the team right now and ask to read the share offer.
Eventually the co-operative hopes to use 2,000 tonnes of sustainably sourced local wood annually, saving an estimated 900 tonnes of CO2.
Anyone can join the co-operative. Members have a single vote, however much they invest, and receive a good annual return on their investment. Local investors will be prioritised for co-operative membership.
Written by Rachel