As winter approaches, The Mersey Forest is working to give local businesses and residents a renewable choice for their heating, using wood as a fuel.
The Mersey Forest has launched an online calculator to help businesses and consumers explore the financial and carbon benefits of switching to a wood fuel boiler to take advantage of the government's Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).
The free tool at www.merseyforest.org.uk/rhicalculator is believed to be the first of its kind, and provides users with estimates of how much they would earn from the RHI, how quickly their boiler would pay for itself, the expected difference in annual fuel bill and what return they could see after 20 years.
It is hoped that the new tool will encourage organisations and residents to emulate the recently opened Hope Academy in Newton-Le-Willows, which has installed a biomass boiler and solar panels which together provide 100% of its heating and hot water requirements.
The calculator is already highlighting the particular advantages of biomass for those in off-grid areas whose properties aren't connected to mains gas. In anticipation of these findings, over the past year The Mersey Forest has mapped 'off gas' parts of Cheshire and Warrington, and made contact with businesses in these areas to provide advice on changing away from increasingly expensive alternative fuels such as heating oil and coal.
Through its Woodland Advisory Service, The Mersey Forest is also now offering free support and training on growing wood for fuel for eligible woodland owners and managers in Merseyside and Halton.
This will include advising on opportunities to benefit from the new Woodfuel Woodland Improvement Grant launched by the Forestry Commission to fund the thinning of woodland and the extraction of timber. By building both supply of and demand for woodfuel in Merseyside and Cheshire, The Mersey Forest is working to not only support the local economy, but also show how sustainable renewable fuel can be part of the solution to climate change and energy security.
The Mersey Forest has also teamed up with Northwich community group the Friends of Anderton and Marbury to launch a pilot 'wood fuel allotment' that may prove to be the way forward for many of the area's young woodlands. The test project will enable local stove and fire owners to pay a small fee to harvest logs from their own row of trees in a young plantation at Northwich's Carey Park which is in need of thinning.
This is of broader interest since thanks to the work of The Mersey Forest Partnership over the past twenty years, there is now a whole cohort of young woodlands across Merseyside and North Cheshire that will soon be in a similar position. Therefore eyes are on the pilot project to see the viability of the 'allotment' approach at other sites across The Mersey Forest area.
Funding for the RHI calculator and Woodland Advisory Service comes from the Mersey Rural Leader programme, Defra and the Northwest Regional Development Agency. The NWDA also co-funded the project to support 'off gas' businesses alongside the Cheshire and Warrington Economic Commission.