Bethel pellet boiler business benefits from DEP certification

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BETHEL – The state has adapted regulations that will allow rapid introduction of a new wood pellet boiler system to Mainers and others, and bring new jobs to Bethel.

Maine Department of Environmental Protection has accepted European Union emission tests and certifications as comparable to the EPA emission certification for Phase 2 wood and pellet boilers. Maine is the first state in the country to do so.

The decision allows the DEP to issue certifications to Maine Energy Systems in Bethel, owned by Les Otten and Dutch Dresser, for five models of ÖkoFEN pellet boilers, which the company can now sell in the state, the first in the nation to do so, according to a statement released Wednesday by the DEP.

“The state agency went out of their way to facilitate business in a way that makes sense to everyone,” Dresser said Wednesday afternoon.

The new certification has allowed Maine Energy Systems to expand its business, bring more jobs into the area and provide Mainers and others with more heating options. The company pioneered the introduction of automatic wood pellet boiler systems and bulk pellet distribution to the United States beginning in June 2008.

The company has created a dozen jobs over the last two years and hopes to create more jobs as a result of having its products certified and as they become more widely known as an alternative to fossil fuels.

Dresser said they are already in the process of hiring an additional person to help assemble the boiler systems and expect as time goes by to hire even more people. The European designed boilers are assembled in Maine.

In March, representatives of three Maine biomass companies, including Maine Energy Systems, went to Austria to strengthen relations with several high-tech European alternative energy companies and to bring back knowledge and technology to Maine and New England.

During the trip, the representatives, which included Otten and Dresser , Bill Strauss of FutureMetrics and George Soffron of Corinth Wood Pellets, met with OkoFEN officials to see their state-of-the-art wood pellet boiler system.

“These systems are fully automated using locally produced pellets. You never see the pellets. The boiler feeds itself,” Dresser said. The only thing a homeowner has to do is to set the thermostat and remove ash about four times a year.

“They’re fully automated nature makes its suitable for the American public,” he said. The boiler system is used by more than 35,000 households across Europe.

“It takes two minutes. You could do it in your finest clothes,” Dresser said of the homeowner’s role. “It’s really remarkable.”

Dresser said the OkoFEN boilers are installed in outside buildings in Europe that are separate from the living quarters. Because of that, Maine law required that the boiler be treated as an outdoor wood boiler. But Maine environmental regulations also allow the DEP to accept boiler certification programs other than the one used by EPA, if deemed scientifically valid.

After analyzing the method used to certify boilers in Europe, Maine developed a way to compare the European results to those obtained from the EPA test method, said Louis Fontaine, Maine DEP Bureau of Air Quality. He led the process that resulted in accepting the European certification for the boilers systems to be used indoors in the United States.

Dresser said the DEP recognized the value of the product to Maine and used available test information to show the boilers are in compliance with existing federal EPA rules “rather than blindly insisting that we retest the equipment at great costs in time and money.”

Dresser said the decision shows the department’s willingness to work with Maine businesses to benefit the state’s environment and its economy.

Fontaine said Maine is considered a leader nationally in establishing wood boiler regulations and with the new certification, other states are expected to follow. This week, Vermont issued an interim certification to Maine Energy Systems for one of the ÖkoFEN boilers, specifically saying it relied on Maine DEP’s analysis in equating the EPA and European standards, he said.

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