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The Job Interview: A hot new idea in heating your home – wood pellets

The Stove Barn showroom on Loudon Road offers pellet stove models like the "Enviro Empress" for sale next to traditional stoves on November 22, 2013. 

(WILL PARSON / Monitor staff)

The Stove Barn showroom on Loudon Road offers pellet stove models like the "Enviro Empress" for sale next to traditional stoves on November 22, 2013. (WILL PARSON / Monitor staff)

The United States remains behind Europe in grasping and accepting the benefits of wood pellets as a central source of heat.

Here in New Hampshire, though, the concept seems to be getting through quicker than in other areas of the country, and our neighbors to the north want to learn what we’re doing in the Granite State.

That’s the word from Dutch Dresser, managing director of Maine Energy Systems, the licensed manufacturer and distributor of an Austrian-designed wood pellet boiler system.

New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont are Dresser’s biggest customers, and he returned to his Maine home last week after a conference in Vancouver, where he explained to an association why burning wood pellets is a hot idea.

What happened at the conference?

I’d been asked to speak to the Wood Pellet Association of Canada at its annual meeting because they’re pretty excited about what’s going on around here in northern New England. We get those opportunities all the time, to sort of demonstrate to North America what’s become very common in western Europe.

Why has it taken the United States longer?

The primary reason is fossil fuel prices in the U.S. have been artificially low compared to the rest of the globe for a very long time, so we haven’t had to worry about consumption of fossil fuels so much. But we’re recognizing the value of renewable fuels, and we’re recognizing with a bit more alarm what we’re doing with our carbon emissions.

Has our government been slow to embrace this idea?

I think we should be more alarmed than we are at the policy level. At all levels of government, we’re devoid or short of energy policy.

Is the Granite State ahead of the learning curve?

I applaud what the state of New Hampshire is doing and has already done to try to promote this and other renewable energy sources.

How does it work?

It works exactly like your oil boiler or gas boiler; it just burns a different fuel. You take out the existing fossil fuel boiler and put this boiler in.

Can you name one advantage?

Much lower fuel bills.

Can you name another?

It’s also environmentally friendly and regionally economically friendly, which is profoundly important, because you’re spending your heating dollars in your local region, as opposed to halfway around the world. It’s a homegrown energy source.

Can you show us how this helps the economy?

When you burn an imported fossil fuel, 22 cents on the dollar stays in the local economy and 78 cents goes somewhere far away real quick. In the case of the pellet fuel that you buy, that was made in Jaffrey, one hundred cents on the dollar stays in the local economy.

Is there a negative component here?

The issue is the capital cost issue. This equipment is more expensive than liquid or gas burning equipment because burning refined wood efficiently with lower emissions is more complicated than burning gas or oil.

What’s a wood pellet?

It’s a refined source of wood energy. The wood has been made into small particles, been dried dramatically and compressed into a form that’s easy for a boiler to feed itself with, so the ash production is down and the moisture is gone.

Why is it more efficient?

When you burn stick wood, there’s a fair amount of moisture you boil off, so a lot of your energy goes to boiling off what’s in the log already. Pellets are very clean.

How many pellets are needed for a year of heat?

A ton of pellets has the thermal energy of 120 gallons of No. 2 heating oil. If you burn 960 gallons a year, which is not uncommon, you would burn eight tons of pellets, and that would amount to 2½ deliveries per year.

Cost?

Pellets cost around $249 per ton.

Do you deliver?

We deliver pellets up to 150 miles in one direction, and we will deliver to anyone with a suitable receptacle. We like them to be a 3-ton minimum storage unit so we don’t have to go there every few weeks.

Do environmentalists complain about cutting down trees?

There are always those people. The Maine Forest Service favors what we’re doing because we don’t cut as much wood for paper anymore, the saw log industry is slow and the forests need to be harvested to be healthy. There will always be different points of view on that, but those who are thoughtful about it all recognize the value that this has to healthy forests.

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

Do environmentalists complain about cutting down trees? There are always those people. Ray: this comment was totally unnecessary and disingenuous. I am an environmentalist, and know MANY people concerned about the environment who have eagerly embraced this technology. Wood is a renewable resource, and this method of heating is cleaner and more efficient than other fossil fuels and regular wood burning. Acting like it's something "new" shows that you are out of touch with recent trends. We've had our pellet stove for 4 years, and others have had them much, much longer. So, glad to see you writing about it, but quit the foolish and needless shots at people you obviously don't know or understand, Ray.

We have been heating our 2000 square foot house for two seasons now on pellets. We have a pellet stove in the living room where we all tend to gather so there is a little more heat there. The heat spreads evening to the rest of the first floor and then up the stari case to the upstairs rooms and bathroom. The house has force hot air (propane) which we normally had spent $1800 +/- for in prior years. The furnace does not come on at all unless we're away on a trip. I set the stove up with its own programmable thermostat. Temps when we're home are 70, night temps 64, away temp is 55. I keep the regular furnace set to 53 just in case we ran out of pellets while we were away. My total consumption has been about 2.25 tons of pellets per heating season. I also keep the stove (Harman P45) on a UPS for appropriate shutdown if the power goes out.

WOW! that is good. So you spend about $550 to heat your home. My ex installed two stoves and it heats the whole home and it is a very old home with insulation challenges. I have propane forced hot water with one blower in the kitchen and in late December I will be filled for about $1000. I am hoping to get through until late March when it will cost another $800. House size is 2500 feet. I only heat the downstairs.

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