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Wood pellet stoves selling fast as home heating oil prices rise

Christine Hemeon has been shopping all over the state for a wood pellet stove to heat her home. But the model she wants is on back order for up to three months — or dealers won't sell and install one because she lives too far away.

"It's been a disaster looking for one," said Hemeon, of Hill, who was checking out a different pellet stove at Fireplace Village on Tuesday.

Even before Hurricane Katrina disrupted domestic oil supplies and drove the price of home heating oil in New England over $2.50 a gallon, sales of wood and pellet stoves were brisk. Now they're flying out the door, bought by people trying to keep their home heating bills under control.

"People are afraid, and rightfully so," said Jim Brennan, a salesman and installer at Stove Barn, which sells wood and gas stoves. "We're going to have a very busy year."

Leslie Wheeler, spokeswoman for the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, an industry group based in Arlington, Va., says there's more interest in all kinds of home heating stoves — wood, pellet and coal — but pellet stoves are the runaway bestseller.

Shipments of pellet stoves from manufacturers to retailers rose 59 percent in the second quarter of 2005, compared to the same period a year earlier, while wood stoves stayed steady, Wheeler said. The association does not track coal stoves.

Pellet stoves, which burn fuel made of highly compressed sawdust, are a relatively new technology. More buyers are choosing them over wood and coal stoves because pellets are cleaner to handle and fuel doesn't have to be added as often, Wheeler said.

Pellets also are more energy efficient and emit less air pollution than any other solid fuel, said Charles Niebling, policy director of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, a nonprofit environmental group. The forest society heats its building with a wood gasification boiler and has a pellet stove in its conference room.

While pellet stoves give off carbon dioxide, the gas responsible for global warming, they are considered "carbon neutral" because the fuel comes from trees, which absorb carbon dioxide as they grow, he said. However, they emit more airborne particles than fossil fuel.

Pellet stoves cost more than their wood or coal-fired counterparts, but often are less costly to install because they can be put within 3 inches of a wall and vented directly to the outside without a chimney.

Wood stoves are immune to power failures, however, while pellet stoves depend on complex electronics to control their fans and fuel-feed systems.

Most buyers still use wood or pellet stoves to supplement oil, gas or propane heat, but an increasing number want to use a stove as their primary heat source. That's leading to shortages of seasoned firewood and pellets.

"Everyone is panicking," said Howard Seligman, of The Stove Shoppe in Windham. "I'm getting calls from customers who usually buy a ton (of pellets), they want to buy a second ton."

New England Wood Pellet Inc., in Jaffrey, which supplies pellets to retailers around New England and in eastern Pennsylvania and New York, can barely keep up with demand, said operations manager Woody Keeney. In the past, the company built up its inventory over the summer — but not this year.

"Everything we make is going right out the door," Keeney said.

The company installed a third pellet machine last week and added a huge new sawdust dryer Tuesday. When it installs a fourth pellet machine next spring, it will be able to produce 100,000 tons per year. The company also is looking to open another pellet factory in the Northeast, Keeney said.

Lloyd Nichols, co-owner of Tarm USA Inc., in Lyme, which sells wood pellet furnaces for homes or small businesses, says it's unrealistic to expect the small, alternative energy industry to respond overnight to the sudden demand for its products.

"It takes some time to respond to a shift that's this dramatic," he said. "We're all going to be very, very challenged this fall."

Tarm's boilers are made in Denmark and burn both wood pellets and hulled corn, a popular alternative fuel in the Midwest. He also sells combination boilers that burn wood, oil or gas.

Domestic manufacturers make good pellet stoves now, as well as much more efficient wood stoves, but they lag in developing whole-home heating systems, said U.S. Rep. Charles Bass, R-N.H.

Bass, who installed a Tarm boiler in his Peterborough home two years ago, sponsored a section in the latest federal energy bill granting a 25 percent rebate, up to $3,000, toward the purchase and installation of renewable energy appliances with high energy efficiency ratings. Wood pellet stoves and furnaces will qualify, as will solar, wind-powered, hydroelectric and geothermal systems.

Bass says he's cut his home heating costs by more than half since switching furnaces. He buys 5 tons of pellets each year at $155 per ton, or $775 for a year's supply, and stores them in a silo outside his house. The cost of a year's supply of home heating oil — 900 gallons at last week's average price of $2.67 per gallon — exceeds $2,400.

"I'm almost evangelical about this," Bass said. "I'm burning all renewable energy that comes from New Hampshire."

The U.S. Department of Energy is still working on rules for the rebate program and Congress has not funded the rebates yet. It's also unclear whether they will be retroactive to Aug. 8, when the energy bill was signed.

But consumers aren't waiting, Nichols said. Most homeowners who buy pellet or wood stoves and furnaces want independence from the fluctuations of world oil and gas markets, he said.

"I want security," he said. "There's a great comfort from seeing my heating fuel in my yard."


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Людмила | 30.05.2013 09:18:51

А якість, панове, якість? Соромно порівнювати вартість з такою якістью! Таке враження, що дороги ремонтують диверсанти.

vova | 27.05.2013 18:06:18

у нас дешевше, зато кожних два-три роки заново переробляють. відкати і т д.

был, видел | 27.05.2013 14:10:15

Этот кретин хоть раз был в Польше и видел тамошние дороги? Это не наши полосы препятствий, которые и дорогами назвать нельзя.


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