Maintaining the Momentum

Maine Fuel Pellet Alliance Executive Director Bill Bell talks about the upcoming challenges the Northeast pellet industry faces.
By Bill Bell | April 30, 2014

Rolling, rolling, rolling on the river.” (Creedence Clearwater Revival, 1969).

The challenge the Northeast pellet industry faces as the snow finally melts and folks cease talking about the cold winter and strong demand for pellets is now “How do we keep the momentum going?”
Extensive media attention to the “pellet shortage” has given our industry the opportunity to publicly advise customers that “there was never any shortage, just a failure to order sufficient quantity ahead of time.” The proof of that advice will be in the pudding, as we now see how major retailers go about ordering for the next heating season.

But let’s admit it. After some lean years, we’re on a bit of a roll.

What would have been adversity in earlier years now seems to be turning to our advantage, at least in the Pine Tree State.

The first challenge has been a proposal before the Maine legislature’s Appropriations Committee to take heating program incentive program funds from the funder, Efficiency Maine, and dump them into the usual holes in the state budget. These are the same funds that have been a huge shot in the arm for our pellet equipment companies, who, as I write this, have sold 74 units, at average installed price of $17,000, under Efficiency Maine’s $5,000 rebate program for homeowners. Only the heat pump rebate program has been more popular.

Our members responded quickly to the legislative challenge, with emails and calls to Appropriations Committee members, as did our new best friends, the insulationists, who have been the major beneficiaries of Efficiency Maine assistance to homeowners. At the annual meeting of the Maine Association of Building Efficiency Professionals, we agreed to “focus not on fighting over our slices of the pie, but instead on maintaining and increasing the size of the pie itself.”  

Good things happen to good people, and we benefited greatly from the fortuitous timing of the New England Clean Energy Council’s annual Legislative Day in Maine. Council members, many of them with large investments in Maine’s energy infrastructure, chose to make the funding of our Efficiency Maine incentive program their No. 1 talking point with legislative leadership. From that point on, momentum on this issue shifted our way, and the raid on Efficiency Maine has been called off.

It also helped that at the same time, Corinth Pellets in Maine, under new ownership, announced a significant expansion that will create up to 20 new jobs in the plant, plus more in the woods. This has enabled us to talk about heating incentive programs as a job creator, replacing oil with homegrown fuel.

The second challenge has been our governor’s legislative proposal to take funds from the projected expansion of the timber harvest on Maine’s public lands and apply these funds to the Efficiency Maine incentive program. This is essentially our association’s legislation from last year, which had been sidetracked by environmentalist objections to the funding source. This time around, with the governor holding a press conference on his proposal, there has been extensive media coverage about helping homeowners switch to pellet heat. Legislatively, the proposal will likely fall short again. If we lose this battle, however, we are still winning the war in terms of public perception about pellet heat.   

The upcoming Northeast Biomass Heating Expo and Conference in Portland, Maine will provide another opportunity to familiarize Maine homeowners and businesses with our technology and fuel cost savings. BTEC’s board of directors will be meeting in Portland, in conjunction with this conference.
We’re not there yet, but we’re rolling.

Author: Bill Bell
Executive Director, Maine Pellet Fuels Association