FARMINGTON — The Maine wood pellet industry Wednesday observed National Bioenergy Day, which recognizes the increased use of pellets and chips to heat homes, businesses and public buildings, Bill Bell of Portland and president of Maine Pellet Fuels Association, said.
Bioenergy is defined as a renewable energy made from materials derived from biological sources. Wood pellets are manufactured at four Maine sites: Geneva Wood Fuels in Strong, and mills in Ashland, Corinth and Athens.
It takes 500 tons of wood for the Strong plant to produce 250 tons of pellets a day, Jeff Allen, plant manager, said. The wood is debarked, chipped, graded and pressed into pellets, he said.
“The good thing is the wood is all local,” Allen said. “We have 80-85 local wood suppliers who bring 500 ton of wood a day or 3,500 ton a week to the mill. Paid $40-$50 a ton for the wood, that puts thousands of dollars back into the local economy.”
Wood heat is nothing new to Maine but getting back to it either in the form of biomass or chips and pellets provides a savings over oil use, Allen said.
A ton of pellets produces about the heat equivalent, in BTUs, of 120 to 130 gallons of oil. At a cost of about $240 to $260 a ton for pellets, Allen estimated the cost savings at one-third to one half of that of oil.
Since mill owner Jonathan Kahn of Chicago opened Geneva Wood Fuels, LLC, in 2009, production of pellets has about doubled, Allen said. The mill employs 25 full-time workers and runs 24 hours a day seven days a week.
Driver James Elliott makes deliveries to four schools in RSU 9, four schools in RSU 58 and two schools in RSU 74. He also delivers to pellet dealers in Bethel and Lewiston and to Jackson Laboratory, Allen said.
The Strong mill makes no home deliveries but sells bags of pellets to large stores such as Home Depot and Lowe’s, he said.
In observance of National Bioenergy Day, Allen accompanied Elliott on a delivery to the Mallett School in Farmington. The 25 tons of pellets delivered were the first since last spring. The new school is pretty efficient, Elliott said, estimating it will last a month and a half in this weather.
“Maine is a leader in New England with more schools that have converted to wood pellet heat,” Allen said.
Maine’s pellet fuel industry is particularly appreciative of the work of former SAD 58 Superintendent Quentin Clark, who pioneered the conversion of Maine schools from oil to pellet heating, Bell said in a news release.
“A program administered by the Maine Forest Service has financially assisted the installation of pellet and wood chip heat in 24 public buildings in Maine, most of them schools and colleges, Bell said in a statement. “Equally significant, an incentive program provided by Efficiency Maine has enabled hundreds of Maine homeowners to convert to central pellet heat. These conversions are now proceeding at the rate of one a day.
“Maine’s rapidly growing pellet heat industry is recognized as a national leader. Maine has, of all states, the highest percentage of homes dependent on oil heat, and the largest percentage of forested land,” Bell’s statement said.
Maine Pellet Fuels Association was founded in June 2008 as a nonprofit corporation. It’s goal is to promote the benefit of using pellets for heat and energy production and to support the pellet industry, according to its website.