September 13, 2012

Mainers gain on oil-free objective

Efforts to weatherize homes and switch to other fuels loosen oil's historic grip faster than expected.

By Tux Turkel tturkel@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Molly and Chris Just with their six-month-old son Ben just installed this wood-pellet boiler (foreground), to replace their old oil-fired boiler. Maine's consumption of oil is steadily declining and has reached levels not seen since 1984.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

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The amount of heating oil burned in Maine homes in 2010 declined to levels not seen since 1984. Consumption has been falling steadily since 2004 and is expected to continue

Just said he was happy with the system's performance last winter; it burned cleanly and was quiet. He went through nine tons of wood pellets, and expects his ongoing weatherization efforts to cut the volume.

ReVision Energy in Portland, which sells and installs solar panels, developed a subsidiary devoted to pointing the way to "the road off oil" for homes and businesses.

"I wake up every morning trying to figure out how I can chisel away more oil consumption," said Lee Landry, co-founder of ReVision Heat.

ReVision Heat sells and installs high-efficiency heaters, including boilers that burn wood pellets, natural gas and propane. It also optimizes the performance of oil units to cut consumption by as much as 10 percent.

Business this year was strong through the spring and summer, which is unusual, Landry said. He hired three people in June and soon may add installers.

Until recently, Landry said, many customers were switching to gas boilers. Lately, there's been interest in a new generation of super-efficient, electric heat pumps, which can tap the warmth in outdoor air. Several Maine companies are advertising units manufactured by Mitsubishi Electric, which also provide air conditioning in the summer.

Portland-based Dead River Co., the largest oil and propane dealer in northern New England, is promoting the Mitsubishi unit, even though the technology competes with the oil heat the company has focused on for decades.

"To stay in this business, we have to be open to everything that helps customers stay warm at an affordable price," said Robert Moore, the company's president.

Dead River has been especially bullish on propane, which Moore expects will replace heating oil over time for homes that aren't near natural gas lines.

Dead River also is expected to partner this fall with Thermal Energy Storage of Maine, which distributes a high-efficiency electric heater that stores warmth overnight in dense bricks. Moore declined to discuss details, but said his company will install the heaters, which are common in other states.

In Maine's commercial sector, oil use fell from 121 million gallons in 2005, to 88.5 million in 2010, according to federal data.

But the most dramatic declines could still be ahead, if natural gas pipelines proposed for the Kennebec River Valley and northern Penobscot County are built and connected to paper mills and other large manufacturers.

A company in Washington County illustrates the potential. Woodland Pulp LLC in Baileyville hooked up last year to a nearby intrastate natural gas pipeline. Before the conversion, the mill burned 10.3 million gallons of heavy oil annually.

The conversion cost $12 million, but will pay for itself in lower fuel costs by sometime this year.

 

Staff Writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at:

tturkel@pressherald.com

 

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