Monday, February 25, 2008

Other fuels in greater demand

Portland Press Herald

Firewood, wood pellets and coal are now less expensive to use than oil, propane and natural gas.

The Associated Press February 25, 2008

BANGOR — With no relief in sight from rising heating fuel prices, Mainers are looking for alternative ways to stay warm.

Sky-high oil, propane and natural gas prices are driving a boom in sales of stoves and furnaces that burn wood pellets, corn and even coal.

David Green replaced two propane tanks with a wood pellet stove to heat his family's Bangor home. The heating costs of the new stove, which was put in two years ago, are about a third those of propane, he said.

The wood heat also makes their spacious home a lot more comfortable during the long Maine winters, he said.

"From my perspective, I can't think of why more people wouldn't do it," Green said. "For us, we will break even in two years."

From a cost perspective, alternative fuels are an attractive option these days.

Heating oil would have to cost about $2.10 a gallon to get the same bang for the buck from a ton of wood pellets sold for $240 a ton and burned in a high-efficiency boiler, according to information provided by the state's Office of Energy Independence and Security. Wood pellets now sell for $200 to $250 a ton, while the statewide average of heating oil was $3.28 a gallon last week.

A cord of seasoned firewood typically runs a homeowner $200 to $300. With a clean-burning and efficient wood stove, heating oil would have to cost $2.10 to $2.20 a gallon to offer the same return on investment.

The same goes for coal, which at $270 a ton is equivalent to $2.40-a-gallon heating oil, according to state officials.

The growing interest in wood pellets and other renewable resources could provide a boost to Maine's forestry and agriculture industries.

Replacing 10 percent of the state's heating oil consumption with homegrown wood pellets would produce $350 million in economic activity and generate up to 3,700 jobs, said Ian Burnes, deputy director of policy and planning with the Office of Energy Independence and Security.

Maine's alternative fuels industry is still young and developing, Burnes said, so the state is looking at ways to help the industry grow and make it more convenient for homeowners.

"It is not a fully matured fuel source at this point," he said, "but there are a lot of people out there using (wood pellets), and they are saving money."

It's not just wood that people are turning to.

Jon Glidden of Glidden Services in Millinocket said he's seeing growing interest in coal-fired stoves and furnaces.

Glidden said the anthracite coal he sells is a lot cleaner than the dusty coal of olden days. It burns almost as cleanly as wood but leaves no ash, he said.

Switching to alternative fuels isn't for everybody.

Heating with oil, propane or natural gas is virtually worry-free -- except for writing the check -- while heating with wood pellets, coal or corn takes effort and planning.

Without access to a widespread delivery system, people have to keep themselves supplied with fuel. That means loading up the trunk or pickup with 40-pound bags of pellets, kernels or coal and carrying the bags into the basement.

Copyright © 2008 Blethen Maine Newspapers

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