Spreading the Word, Being Heard

While the export industry and demand outside North America is out of our stakeholders’ control—as are external market forces such as the weather, and the price of fossil fuels—there are things that we can and must do to influence domestic growth.
By Anna Simet | March 29, 2018

Before I joined Biomass Magazine as a staff writer nearly 10 years ago, I’m not sure I had ever heard of pellet heat. We launched Pellet Mill Magazine as a biannual supplement a year or so later, and over the years, it’s been an interesting and enlightening experience to write and learn about the industry. We have followed along the ebb and flow, from the boom following the recession and some great years, to several warm winters, overcapacity and tougher times, to now, when the industry is on the rebound, going through some change, and stabilizing. And, is seemingly ready for more growth.

While the export industry and demand outside North America is out of our stakeholders’ control—as are external market forces such as the weather, and the price of fossil fuels—there are things that we can and must do to influence domestic growth, and that is advocating for more appliance purchases, and more pellet sales. As you’ll read in PFI Executive Director Tim Portz’s page-6 column, the organization is pushing for 100,000 new appliance sales this year, dubbed “Operation 100k,” with catchphrase “Heat local,” driving the campaign. Creating consumer awareness is No. 1, and that’s reiterated by all the sources in Patrick Millers, page-12 feature, “The Word on Wood Heat.”  Aptly stated by Pellergy founder Andy Boutin, “Our single biggest barrier to increased sales and increased market penetration for wood pellet heating is that people just don’t understand that it’s an option.”
Related to this is another interesting perspective brought forth in my page-24 article “Pellet Stove Prowess” for which I had a long discussion with Pellet Stove Service’s Scott Williamson, who has been installing, cleaning and repairing pellet stoves for pushing 15 years. Williamson told me that he agrees that more installations are a huge part of the puzzle, but emphasized that a qualified workforce—technicians who have the knowledge and skills to work on these appliances—has to accompany that, and right now, they are not in abundance. The classic question there is, which comes first?

Outside of appliance sells, when it comes to growth, our neighbors to the north have a different opportunity in mind, and that is playing a role in Canada’s Clean Fuel Standard, which is now in the making. In “Awaiting the Signal,” Senior Editor Ron Kotrba drills into the possibilities. Interestingly—and, quite encouragingly—pellet makers have been invited to the table to offer guidance in drafting the legislation. “This is the first time I’ve seen government coming to trade associations asking to help draft regulations,” Wood Pellet Association of Canada’s Gordon Murray told Kotrba. “…government seems sincere and genuine in its attempt to solicit input. I have a pipeline, a direct chance to be heard.”

The potential hurdle here, Murray adds, is that the bulk of Canadian production is currently spoken for. “No one is sitting around with millions of tons of pellets to divert, because they’re already committed,” he says. “For us to take advantage of this, we need to build up production, handling systems and storage.”

While many facilities don’t produce at capacity and could up production for new customers, in order to do so in a substantial way without risk, they must need exactly that—a for-sure driver that will send product out the door, and off the shelves.

For the U.S., while it won’t be federal policy at the root of more business for the foreseeable future, growth is based on the same premise—continuing to hammer into consumers, businesses and policymakers that clean, modern, local wood heat has been, is and will continue to be an attractive option.
 

Author: Anna Simet
Editor
asimet@bbiinternational.com