New York houses largest wood-pellet plant

By Jerry W. Kram
New England Wood Pellet LLC opened the largest wood pellet manufacturing plant in the United States in Schuyler, N.Y., in December. The $10 million plant will produce 100,000 tons of pellets per year, enough to heat 33,000 homes and businesses, according to Charlie Niebling, NEWP general manager.

"It's going well," Niebling said of the plant's first month of operation. "We had a few little technical glitches, which isn't unusual for a facility of this size, but we got them all ironed out and are running on all cylinders."

The plant manufactures wood pellets out of wood waste that comes from 30 lumber mills in central New York. Niebling said the company worked on negotiating its supply agreements for 16 months, four months longer than it took to build the plant. NEWP has enough wood waste suppliers to operate at 80 percent of capacity. Once it reaches that threshold-probably sometime this fall-Niebling said the company will buy round wood and chip it, or contract to have it chipped.

There is high demand for wood-pellet fuel in the Northeast, Niebling said. The company has agreements with 75 retailers in New York alone. "We definitely see pellet fuel taking off," he said. "While the history of pellet heating in the United States has primarily been one of residential heating with pellet stoves, you need only look at Europe to see what the potential is. In Europe, pellets are being used for commercial and industrial heating, combined heat and power (CHP), cogeneration, district heating, and power generation on a very large scale. We think it is only a matter of time before the economics of heating or CHP with fossil energy drives people to consider alternatives."

The Schuyler facility is NEWP's second. The company operates a 75,000-ton-per-year wood pellet plant in Jaffrey, N.H., and a packaging plant in Palmer, Mass. The company also maintains a research and development facility in Jaffrey, where much of the equipment for the New York plant was designed. "Our intention is to get into the business of turnkey plant production," Niebling said.