March 18, 2010

The Knock on Wood

By TUX TURKEL and TOM BELL, Staff Writers

(Continued from page 1)


The issues with pellet stoves and wood pellets are altogether different. While area retailers have a healthy inventory of standard wood-burning stoves and coal stoves, pellet stoves are in short supply.


Pellet stoves, which offer the convenience of long burn times and automatic controls, are this year’s hot item. Dealers have been overwhelmed. Many models are back-ordered and some dealers are taking orders for next year.


“There’s a mad rush on this product,” said Bill Robinson, owner of Frost & Flame in North Windham. “Ninety-five percent of people walking through the door are asking for a pellet stove.”

 

The demand for pellet stoves has caught retailers and manufacturers off guard.Three years ago, when oil and gas prices rose, consumers began buying pellet stoves in record numbers. The industry geared up to meet demand. Then oil and gas prices stabilized, and many stoves were left sitting in warehouses.


As a result, many retailers say they won’t have any pellet stoves available until the fall or perhaps the end of year.


PLENTY OF PELLETS NOW


There is good news, though, for people who have yet to buy fuel for their pellet stoves.


Retailers say supply is adequate now, although they worry about this winter.


The Paris Farmers Union farm and building supplies store in Portland received 22 tons of Canadian-made pellets last week. The store went through 100 tons during all of last season, but has already sold roughly 300 tons this year. Prices range from $269 a ton for Maine-made pellets, picked up at the store, to $309 delivered, for Canadian fuel.


Bill Bonnvie, a store employee, has advice for pellet stove owners: “If people think they can heat their house with three tons, buy four,” he said. “That way, you’re not scrambling in February and have to buy oil at $5 a gallon, or whatever, to get you through the winter.”


Maine has three pellet factories, in Ashland, Athens and Corinth. Producers are preparing to meet the demand, according to George Soffron, general manager at Corinth Wood Pellets LLC.


His plant has 28 employees, but will grow to 50 later this year and run at full throttle.


“We’ll be 24/7 by September,” he said.


Soffron wouldn’t disclose the plant’s exact output, but said it will be in the range of 100,000 to 150,000 tons a year. Waste wood supply is adequate now, he said, although dealers are calling him with a sense of urgency. He calls it, “an almost-panic-buy situation.”


John Tanguay of Westbrook said worries about a possible pellet shortage persuaded him to buy his winter’s supply of pellets.


He said he bought a pellet stove in May because his house burns more than 1,000 gallons of oil during the heating season. The pellet stove will lower his fuel costs enough to pay for itself in one year, he predicted.
“At the end of the season, we will have something left over: a stove that retails for $3,100, rather than receipts from the oil company.”



Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:
tbell@pressherald.com



Staff Writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at:
tturkel@pressherald.com

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