Maine Removes a Roadblock to Pellet Heating Systems

By Bill Bell | October 31, 2011

The recent annual meeting of our Maine Pellet Fuels Association brought forth unanimity on an important point: the economic success of the four pellet manufacturing firms in our state is to considerable extent dependent upon the success of the firms installing pellet heating equipment. Our manufacturing firms are therefore fully behind association efforts to open more doors for installers
One effort has already met with significant success, and is of national significance. As of late September, Maine law now prohibits the state Commissioner of Public Safety from having any rule which would disallow “the connection of a solid-fuel burning appliance to a chimney flue to which another appliance burning oil or solid fuel is connected.” In other words, it is now, in Maine, OK to have a pellet stove or central heating system hooked into the same chimney flue as an oil burner.
The earlier law prohibiting dual connections exists in many states, and is based upon a model law set forth in the mid-1990s by the National Fire Protection Association. Since that time, the technology surrounding heating systems has changed markedly, particularly with regard to high-efficiency pellet heating systems. Maine’s fire marshal, while opposing the change in Maine law, was unable to come up with any instance in which an accident could be attributed to dual connections involving pellet heat.

The new law, of course, contains safeguards, such as assurance of sufficient draft, a carbon monoxide detector in or near any bedroom, and—most important to our industry—approval of pellet heating appliances by Underwriter Laboratories Inc. or a similar organization, and installation according to manufacturers standards. This means that manufacturers will need to modify their current prohibitions, set forth in their manuals in accordance with the National Fire Protection Association model, against installation into an existing oil burner flue system. Some manufacturers are now doing so, in view of Maine’s new law, and others will no doubt follow suit if requested by the heating firms installing their equipment.

In many instances, this change in Maine law considerably reduces the cost of installing a pellet heating system. Another barrier to conversions is, of course, the huge question of financing. Many states have enacted a Property Assessed Clean Energy or PACE legislation approach, whereby the financing takes place through the municipality and is rolled into the homeowner’s property tax bill. However, this mechanism has come up against many roadblocks, with lenders and regulators having all-too-vivid memories of the 2008 meltdown in homeowner financing instruments. Our Maine Pellet Fuels Association is working to find ways around the roadblocks.

A third roadblock to residential and small commercial conversions from oil to pellet heat is the pellet distribution system. The distribution dilemma is classic to the introduction of many new technologies. Bulk delivery is clearly the cost-efficient system of the future, but how to get to that point? It’s our understanding that in Upper Austria—our best model—pellet heat was first installed in large facilities taking bulk deliveries, so that a distribution network was readily established to serve homeowners as well. Not so in Maine, although we are being helped by having a number of public buildings converted thanks to $13 million in federal Recovery Act financing provided through the Maine Forest Service. We’re looking to new delivery and pellet storage technologies to help solve distribution questions.

And who has a superb system, with the confidence of homeowners, and trucks going into every neighborhood? Our friends selling home heating oil, of course, and we are welcoming increased collaboration with those oil dealers now thinking of their firms as fuel suppliers, delivering pellets as well.

Author: Bill Bell
Executive Director
Maine Pellet Fuels Association