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Residential Wood Pellet Heat on the Rise

Recognizing the benefits in carbon emissions, job creation and even economic boosts for in-state manufacturers, three northeast states are encouraging pellet boilers for residential and commercial heat.
By Lisa Gibson | August 31, 2011

With a federal government that’s dragging its feet in crafting incentives for the use of wood pellets in energy production, some U.S. states are taking matters into their own hands. Recognizing the benefits in carbon emissions, job creation and even economic boosts for in-state manufacturers, three northeast states are encouraging pellet boilers for residential and commercial heat.

No need to dig for a good reason to bolster the pellet heat industry in Maine. Look no further than Maine Energy Systems, in Bethel, Maine. The company has assembled more than 35,000 pellet boilers for installations all across Europe and is already looking for workers to fill new positions at its plant, following a decision by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to accept European Union emissions testing as comparable to U.S. standards. Now, five of the company’s pellet boiler models are certified for sale to Maine’s home and business owners, requiring an expansion of its workforce to meet expected demand. New jobs to help chip away at the state’s 7.7 percent unemployment rate? I’ll try to think of a downside and get back to you.

In neighboring New Hampshire, the state Public Utilities Commission has enhanced its existing rebate program for pellet boilers in houses and businesses, offering a 30 percent system installation rebate of up to $6,000, while reducing the efficiency standard for qualification to 80 percent from 85 percent. Again, this measure will stimulate job growth and significantly benefit local equipment and fuel manufacturers. Yes, please.

Continuing our southwestward progression, we find Vermont in the process of crafting its own rebate program to facilitate a transition to residential and commercial pellet heat. Not surprisingly, the state has a number of equipment manufacturers and providers set to benefit from the policy.

It’s a great start. And not only boosts business for companies making or selling boilers, but also the northeast’s multitude of pellet mills that, according to some, are at a disadvantage when it comes to exporting to Europe’s far better developed bioenergy market. According to Charlie Niebling, general manager of New England Wood Pellet, exporting is simply not a solid option in the northeast for a number of reasons, including lack of port infrastructure, inland freight and others. The company has locations in New Hampshire and New York, with an exclusively domestic customer base.

I like seeing these kinds of developments that illustrate individual states are capable of making up for lagging federal policies and inattention to a sector that can create hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of badly-needed jobs, while weaning us off of fossil fuel. Let’s hope this sensibility can extend beyond the northeastern tip of the country in the near future. Like, maybe here in North Dakota. You might not have heard, but it gets rather cold here.

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