Had a comment in a previous post where someone opined that it was good that folks were getting “back to basics” and burning wood. To be sure, wood is a viable resource in New Hampshire and it has a place in our energy future. But lets not labor under the misconception that we could or should embrace it as a solution to high energy prices.
First, wood just can’t sustainably supply a significant portion of the state’s heating needs. I’m sure many people have a romantic notion of Olde Wolfeborough with the scent of burning oak wasping through the air, while everyone was happy and cozy.
The fact is that at the turn of the 20th century, New England had been practically clear-cut. A lot was used for lumber, but a lot was also used as a primary fuel. Not only for New Hampshire, but charcoal kilns were constructed by the logging crews and the product exported to far flung states. It was not until the widespread availability of coal and later oil, that reforestation of New England began.
In the later part of the 19th century, Wolfeboro had a large mill in the center of town. The Bell building is a portion that remains. Moses Varney had a tannery near where People’s bank is today. I’ve seen a lot of tanneries, and they all stink to high heaven. There was a large saw mill on…. you guessed it, Mill St. It was powered by steam.
The bucolic Brewster Memorial Hall had two large coal boilers, belching coal soot, probably toward Wolfeboro Falls on the prevailing winter winds.
So if it was so nasty, why did people flock here in the Summer? That’s simple, it was a lot worse where they were. The industrial cities of Massachusetts were ten times dirtier with huge coal stacks belching soot, horses everywhere, inadequate sanitation, and dense population.
If not for technology and the emergence of alternative forms of energy to wood, there would be no wood today. We cannot go back to wood heat any more than we can go back to whale-oil lamps for light. Technology, and it’s application through engineering, is the only way to approach the future. We can’t over engineer, it is by definition the practical application of science. Huge gains have been made in methods and practices to build and retrofit homes, and to provide the reduced heat that those homes require with significantly less environmental impact. Now all we need to do is get people to accept it.