Thoughts Turn to Biomass Heat as Winter Approaches

Gale-force winds, blowing snow, icy road conditions and power outages are not uncommon in North Dakota in October. That doesn’t mean we have to like it.
By Rona Johnson | October 29, 2010

Gale-force winds, blowing snow, icy road conditions and power outages are not uncommon in North Dakota in October. That doesn’t mean we have to like it.

In case you didn’t read or hear about it, a winter storm packing a ton of moisture and strong winds hit the Midwest this week. Here in northeast North Dakota we lucked out and just got heavy rain and strong winds, but it’s definitely a harbinger of things to come.

According to the Associated Press, Excel Energy was racing to restore power to more than 160,000 customers in Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota. As of Thursday, there were still about 4,000 customers without electricity. Although power companies do their best to prevent this from happening, and when it does they react immediately, controlling Mother Nature is impossible.  

At this time of year and in this part of the country, when temperatures are above freezing power outages are somewhat tolerable. But I’m sure many people were cursing and wishing they had another heat source that doesn’t depend on electricity.

It might be time to look into biomass heating options such as fireplace inserts or free-standing pellet stoves. I received an e-mail recently from Hearth and Home Technologies that talked about the benefits of pellet heat, including saving on heating costs and reducing air pollution and greenhouse gases. Although the release didn’t mention it, keeping warm during power outages is also a great benefit.

Hearth and Home Technologies says heating a 1,700-square-foot home with pellets based on 2010 heating season fuel prices in a cold climate state could result in a cost savings of $800 per heating season when switching from fuel oil, $1,000 when switching from propane and $1,800 if you are currently heating with electricity.

The cost savings could be greater as the cost of these fossil fuel-based heating options rise, which is expected. According to the Energy Information Administration, U.S. households will see an increase of about 3 percent in their home heating bills this winter (Oct. 1-March 31). The EIA predicts that homeowners heating with natural gas will be paying 6 percent more than they did last year, electricity prices will remain about the same as the previous year, and heating oil and propane will cost more than last winter.

Heating with biomass pellets is also easy on the environment and allows us to use fuels that are grown and produced here in the U.S.

And, to make it even more attractive, the federal government is offering a 30 percent tax credit of up to $1,500 for purchasing pellet appliances but you’d better hurry because that offer ends on Dec. 31.

Pellets aren’t they only form of biomass that can be used for heat. There are also briquettes and tablets. For more information on these biomass products, check out the latest issue of Biomass Power & Thermal at