Wood heating no longer cheaper than gas or electric, still not subsidized

Firewood being stacked. October 2022.
Firewood being stacked. October 2022. Source: Aili Vahtla/ERR

Under a decision by the Estonian government, all types of heating except wood heating will be subsidized this season, despite wood heating no longer being cheaper than natural gas or electricity. Firewood, pellet and briquette prices have all undergone sharp increases, and wood supplies for the season have to be bought outright, which is a costly undertaking for those reliant on them for heat.

82-year-old pensioner Rein in Türi acknowledged that on top of everything else, firewood prices have undergone a dizzying increase, although he nonetheless believes he managed to get his supply for this winter at a very good price. He hasn't yet sought assistance from his local government, but should prices continue to climb, he'll have to weigh doing so.

"Last year you could still get it for €35 [per stere, or cubic meter], but firewood costs €80 and €90 [per stere] now," Rein said. "In other words, firewood has already gotten more than twice as expensive. Briquette used to be €180 or below per pallet, but now costs €450. With each passing day — things are changing overnight."

Firewood prices are even higher in the Estonian capital of Tallinn. Nõmme District resident and pensioner Tiit has lived in his home since birth. Tiit's home is heated by two wood-burning stoves that he heats every other day. He buys firewood by the net, which is ultimately more expensive, but makes it easier to carry logs in from the shed.

Tiit most recently bought firewood this July, and paid one third more for the same amount of firewood then than he did last year.

"They'd promised [firewood] at the previous price, then sort of said that they couldn't do that anymore; I got it for more," he explained. "Birch logs in nets, dry, and I paid I think €5.50 [per net]. In other words, it got around €400-500 more expensive over the past year. I googled too, and saw that others were selling for €7.70 per net, and I saw €8 too, so I actually got it good."

Old buildings have low energy ratings as they are poorly insulated, due to which heating costs are high as well.

Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Riina Sikkut (SDE) acknowledged that it wouldn't be possible to devise a support measure for wood heating similar to that implemented for natural gas, electricity and central heating, as costs for wood heating aren't monthly nor can they automatically be verified with bills.

"When the compensation was agreed upon this summer, that price level was still lower," Sikkut said. "A price increase like we saw for gas or electricity had not yet occurred; the cost per megawatt-hour was still cheaper. By the time the compensation was agreed upon in July, many people had already ordered their firewood for the winter, and without an invoice, and it's not possible to automatically compensate that."

The minister recommended anyone struggling to seek help from their local social welfare department. This is precisely what 84-year-old Milvi, a widowed Nõmme resident, wanted to do. Milvi even had the invoice for the firewood she had ordered, but realized she wouldn't qualify for support as she had money she'd painstakingly saved up for her husband's funeral sitting in her bank account.

"Half-wet alder — a stere cost €110," she recalled. "I need around 10 steres. And briquette, well, that wasn't exactly €1,000; that was €330."

Milvi contacted the city district's social welfare department to ask if she would be eligible for any support, and was told to bring in a statement for her savings account.

"Meaning if I have that funeral money in my savings account, then I'm apparently considered rich already," she explained. "I have several thousand euros."

And so this winter's firewood is already the snows of yesteryear for the government. Are there any plans to work out a support measure for wood heating for next season at least?

"It's very difficult to say what energy carrier prices will be like even in terms of a couple of months, speak nothing of next winter," Sikkut said. "So long as war and uncertainty continue in Europe, it's very difficult to picture any sort of predictability emerging in prices, including wood prices."


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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