January 23

Firewood shortage and higher fuel costs chilling for Mainers

Heating assistance requests double last year’s during the most frigid winter in more than 10 years.

By J. Craig Anderson canderson@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Clint Farnham unwraps a pallet of pea coal Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014. The Paris Farmers Union in Portland is running out of coal, wood pellets and bio bricks.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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“The requests are far ahead of last year,” he said.

Eligibility is based on household income. For example, a family of four must have annual income of $35,000 or less, he said.

Each qualifying household is eligible for up to about $520 each year in regular heating assistance. “In this weather, that’s 30 to 45 days (of heat),” Tarpinian said.

The housing authority, an independent, quasi-governmental agency, also grants a one-time annual emergency allotment of up to $400 per qualifying household, Turcotte said.

The authority has received calls from Mainers who already have used up both allotments for the year – regular and emergency aid – and can’t afford to heat their homes, she said. They are being advised to stay with friends and family for the rest of the season.

“Even the best-laid plans are being blown out of the water by these cold temperatures,’ Turcotte said.

FUEL SELLERS SEE SPIKE

At Paris Farmers Union in Portland, customer demand for pressed-wood bricks and wood pellets for pellet stoves has outpaced the store’s ability to restock those goods, said store manager Trunks Sutton. Coal also has been a big seller, he said.

“They’re going faster than we can keep up,” Sutton said. “We get ’em in, and they’re sold.”

He said the store currently has a waiting period of three to four days for pick-up orders and about a week for delivery orders.

Paris customer Kinney said she and her husband bought BioBricks after looking around unsuccessfully for seasoned firewood.

They even bought some firewood advertised as “semi-seasoned” on Craigslist, but it turned out to be too wet to burn. “It’s still in our garage with snow on it,” Kinney said.

Because of unusually high demand, propane, kerosene, heating oil and natural gas prices are up considerably from the beginning of winter, said Jamie Py, president and CEO of the Maine Energy Marketers Association. Propane and natural gas prices have spiked the most, he said.

Some heating oil suppliers have raised prices for their customers on monthly payment plans in anticipation of higher-than-average consumption, Py said.

While there is no shortage of supply, the problem in Maine has been transporting those fuels to all of the locations where they are being used, Py said. “We don’t have enough pipeline for everyone to use at once.”

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

canderson@pressherald.com

Twitter: @jcraiganderson

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Additional Photos

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On the side of an iced-over wheelhouse, Larry Rich of Portland prepares to throw a line as the Black Beauty approaches dock on the Portland waterfront on Wednesday morning while returning from an overnight fishing trip.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

  


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