Published August 24, 2009 in the Rutland Herald
By BRUCE EDWARDS STAFF WRITER
NORTH CLARENDON — Vermont's first wood pellet mill is up and running, in time to meet demand for the coming heating season.
Vermont Wood Pellet Co., has started turning out wood pellets at its 12,000-square-foot plant in the Airport Business Park.
Katie Adams and Chris Brooks say their mill, which has a capacity of 10,000 tons a year, will supply pellet stove owners within a 30- to 40-mile radius.
Pellets can be purchased directly from the plant (www.vermontwoodpelletcompany.com) or from their distributor, Bourdeaus' and Bushey Inc., in Middlebury.
The August cash price is $250.50 a ton for pickup at the plant or $270.50 delivered in Rutland County. The pickup price in Middlebury is $260.50 a ton and $275.50 delivered in Addison County.
Pellets are sold by the ton in 40 pound bags but can also purchased in 1-ton bulk bags for $235. A 40 pound bag is $5.50.
Prices include a $4 a ton discount for orders paid by cash or check.
"We're in the low range of the New England prices," said Adams, who started station WJEN, Cat Country radio, 16 years ago. Brooks, her partner, has an extensive background in forestry.
The plant is open Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., for pellet purchases and pickup. Customers can also call in their orders.
Adams said the super premium pellets, made from soft wood harvested from local forests, have a low ash content and a high BTU rating of 8,389.
She said Vermont Wood Pellet Company has a contract with a log procurement company to supply the mill with 20,000 tons of wood pulp a year.
When they announced their plans to open a mill this year, Adams and Brooks said they saw a need for wood pellets more than a year ago, checking out possible locations in Middlebury and Randolph.
Demand for wood pellets and pellet stoves soared last year as home heating oil prices hit nearly $5 a gallon at one point before plummeting with the worldwide financial meltdown.
The average price of home heating oil in the state this month was $2.38 a gallon compared to $4.29 a gallon a year ago, according to the Public Service Department's monthly fuel price report.
While oil prices have come down, Adams said the interest in pellet stoves isn't going away.
"I think once people go to pellets they really enjoy the idea of using biomass instead of fuel oil," she said.
But Adams also recognized that if the price of oil stays low some homeowners may opt to fill their oil tank rather than their pellet stove.
Local stove dealers including Alan Currier of Country Stoves on Woodstock Avenue say with home heating oil prices returning to normal levels this summer, demand for pellet stoves has softened.
"The climate is a lot different this year than it was last year," said Currier, who sells Enviro brand pellet stoves.
Currier said the recession hasn't helped either and neither have the problems customers of Vermont Wood Energy encountered last heating season. Many customers of the Pine Street pellet stove retailer never received the pellets they had paid for. The bankrupt company is in the process of liquidating its assets at auction to pay its creditors.
Currier did say that there is more interest in fireplace inserts for heating with wood and pellets.
He also said that there are federal energy credits available to defray the cost of the purchase and installation of a pellet or wood stove.
Rick Kent of E.C. Crosby & Sons in Danby said pellet stove sales are down from a year ago. But Kent also said last year was a "crazy year" with skyrocketing oil prices.
"Compared to last it's off a lot but it's about average," he said.
Crosby carries Enviro and Hestia brand pellet stoves and sells a line of commercial wood boilers and furnaces.
Gary Goodemote of Friends of the Sun in Manchester said pellet stoves are less appealing in the current environment of lower oil prices.
"Pellets are probably about 25 percent more than wood," Goodemote said. "They're probably a little cheaper than gas and I bet they're on a par with oil right now."
He said the Quadra-Fire pellet stoves he sells cost between $2,000 and $4,000, depending on the size and the finish.
As far as pellets go, Friends of the Sun carries pellets as a convenience for customers if they happen to run out of the fuel.
Kent of E.C. Crosby said there should be a plentiful supply of wood pellets this heating season. Although there was a run on wood pellets and pellet stoves last year, Kent said his store never had a problem supplying customers.
"This year the mills are geared more so for a larger volume than in the past so pellets are out there pretty easy this year," he said.