Good Things in Store for Pellets

While the more than $1 million spent to date on Maine’s pellet boiler incentives (at $5,000 per unit) pale in comparison with the $27 million for biomass thermal funding just announced by New York State, these incentives are clearly working.
By Bill Bell | September 01, 2014

“Future’s So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades…” (Timbuk 3, 1986)


When asked this winter about ongoing incentive funding for pellet boiler installations, Efficiency Maine CEO Mike Stoddard challenged, “If the program is a success, ongoing funding will be there.” When asked to define success, Stoddard replied, “If by the end of June you guys have done 50 installations, we’ll be disappointed. If you’ve done 100 installs with us, we’ll consider that a real success.”


Efficiency Maine recently announced that as of June 30, it had completed financing for 214 pellet boiler installations. Stoddard also announced that his agency’s budget for the program that finances these rebates will continue at the present level. While the more than $1 million spent to date on Maine’s pellet boiler incentives (at $5,000 per unit) pale in comparison with the $27 million for biomass thermal funding just announced by New York State, these incentives are clearly working.


Classic stimulus effects are becoming manifest. Iceland’s Eimskip shipping container firm, which moved from Virginia to Maine last year, has a new customer as Portland’s Interphase Energy LLC brings in Kedel pellet boilers from Denmark. The Heating the Northeast Conference in Portland this spring brought hundreds of visitors to the newly remodeled Westin Hotel. Maine’s pellet manufacturers are now running multiple shifts. Incentives work, along with the inherent logic of heating Maine homes with a Maine-grown fuel at half the price of oil.


The directors of the Finance Authority of Maine recently voted to certify Athens Energy LLC, a sister company of Maine Woods Pellet Co., to receive $12 million in state tax credits. These credits are encouragement for Athens to proceed with a $30 million investment to construct and equip a biomass electricity generator and to expand the pellet manufacturing facility, bringing 200 jobs here. The pellet industry is becoming a substantial Maine employer.


As this proceeds, consumers are finally recognizing the viability of pellet heat. “Especially in areas which are not going to get natural gas, our new customers are telling  us ‘we wish we had done this earlier,’” says an executive of one of the two pellet boiler firms located in Maine. 


Major pellet retailers are also getting it. “Until last winter, the big box stores weren’t sure we were for real,” states one pellet manufacturing firm owner. “Now we’re getting orders we never had before.”


The Biomass Thermal Energy Council’s “Heating the Northeast” Conference and Expo, held for five years in Manchester, N.H., and then in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., has found a level of public interest in Maine not previously experienced. In Portland, a steady stream of consumers coming in off the street augmented the show’s traditional appeal to biomass industry audiences and vendors. This event will return to Portland in April 2015 and will add Friday evening and Saturday morning in order to accommodate the interested public.


Obstacles to full-blown expansion remain, of course. The Maine Fuel Board regulations for installing pellet boilers are mired in requirements written prior to the appearance of our “disruptive technology.” To the board’s great credit, it created a task force that has initiated reforms. A particularly uncooperative assistant attorney general recently sent this effort back to square one. But the installers will press forward, knowing that we are here to stay.


And wearing shades. 

Author: Bill Bell
 Executive Director, Maine Pellet Fuels Association
feedalliance@gwi.net
www.mainepelletheat.com