The production and use of wood pellets is a significant growth industry for the State of Maine. It is both a source of new, rural jobs as well as a means to preserve existing jobs in logging and related businesses. Wood pellet fuel represents a proven, accessible, environmentally friendly, ultra-low emission solution to what is certain to be an unstable future price of heating oil.

It is a legitimate source of quality employment which will maintain our sustainable harvesting of pulpwood and complement our historically important pulp and paper industry.

In addition, this manufacturing industry leverages the forest and human resources available here and serves as a true renewable energy solution which is indigenous to Maine as a critical, low-cost heating fuel for homes, businesses and schools. It is a unique industry where we can harvest, manufacture and consume our resource within our local communities. This is a growth engine for the economy of Maine which will help divert the state’s heating fuel sources away from its reliance on imported petroleum.

One can never take lightly the safety concerns inherent in any industry, particularly one that uses a combustible raw material such as wood. Wood is, in many ways, a much safer product, both for manufacturing and for transport, than liquid or gaseous fuels we currently use for heating and other purposes. And wood, unlike fuel oils which are inventoried and transported throughout the state of Maine, is not toxic, and thus it does not pose a contamination threat to the community.

The wood pellet manufacturing business has established an environmental and safety record that is much stronger than that of any comparable heating fuel. There are currently over 500 pellet manufacturing facilities in Europe plus more than 100 in the U.S. and Canada; the vast majority of these facilities in North America have unblemished safety records, alongside their European counterparts.

Many more facilities are under construction to meet the need for low-cost heating. In New England, much of the historical pellet manufacturing has been operating for many years with no incidents or injury. We don’t know the origins of the recent fires, and while they raise legitimate questions about safety, we are confident that each of these facilities will return to service quickly and address any protections needed to operate efficiently and safely.

According to the biomass trade association, the Pellet Fuels Institute, “No industry is immune from the type of incidents that have occurred in Maine over the last week, but the pellet fuel industry maintains a safety record far more stellar than most other wood-related manufacturing industries.” In fact, safety was an educational session topic at the recent PFI annual conference.

International WoodFuels will be constructing a state-of-the-art pellet manufacturing plant in Burnham, Maine, adjacent to Pride Sports, the world’s largest manufacturer of wooden golf tees. Pride has been operating in Maine for several decades and has an exemplary reputation for both safety and community relations.

Our association with Pride will draw on their legacy of knowledge and experience in wood processing and manufacturing. Our plant will be a brand new facility and will employ the best available manufacturing and safety technology. This will include the most advanced levels of dust control, spark detection, and fire suppression. Our company’s management, along with that of Pride, is firmly committed to develop a safe and productive business in Maine.

The wood pellet industry is a valuable industry growth opportunity for the citizens of Maine. This industry was established in the U.S. in the late 1970s and, since the late 1990s, has grown rapidly in Europe and now in North America. In Austria and Italy, for example, almost one-third of the heating fuel requirements are now served with pellet-based stoves and furnaces — both for homes, businesses and schools.

Our vision for Maine’s future is sufficient, in-state, community-based, pellet manufacturing to ensure we can convert every home, business, school and university, from heating oil to renewable energy, by 2020. While we fully agree with the editors of the Sun Journal that safety is paramount for any manufacturing business, it is equally important that we recognize the facts about wood pellet manufacturing. It is not immune to incidents like the one in Strong, but overall, it is a very safe industry.

We must not be dissuaded from doing the right thing even if there are some risks and challenges associated with the creation of an emerging and important industry for Maine and all of New England in the near future. We look forward to addressing this in the strongest tradition of the American pioneers.

Steve Mueller is president of International Woodfuels.

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