Friday, November 25, 2011

Wood Pellet Stoves in High Demand

The demand for wood pellet and corn stoves skyrocketed last year as heating oil prices bumped up against $5 a gallon before collapsing under the weight of speculative fever. The average price of home heating oil in Massachusetts this month was $2. 44 a gallon compared to $4. 29 a gallon a year ago, according to Alternative Heating Info's monthly fuel price report. "While oil prices have come down, the interest in pellet stoves isn't going away" according to Kate Adams of Vermont Wood Pellet Co. "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. " And who could blame them? But having the option to burn pellets instead of oil last year saved those same folks almost $1, 400 on home heating costs for the season. In terms of payback, $1, 400 represents about 45% of the initial investment for a not-too-fancy pellet stove and 3 tons of pellets. And this is before any energy tax credits or rebates are factored in. The swift payback on the money invested in a pellet stove puts to shame the average 10 year payback for a wind system or 20+ years for solar electric. The wood pellet's alter ego, corn, is still the most cost effective heating fuel bar none. Despite the fact that the price of corn rises in tandem with inflated natural gas and heating oil prices, it always maintains a 50% cost advantage over oil or gas for an equal amount of heat. As the price of natural gas plummets due to over supply, the difference between heating with corn and natural gas is still only pennies per 1 million BTU of heat. The days of moderate year to year fuel price increases you could budget for have been replaced by wild price swings resulting from global economic influences. The respite from relatively high fuel prices we enjoy today is only a brief correction in the upward trend of fossil fuel prices. The ability to control home heating costs in the future can be achieved by having the option to burn the cheapest fuel when the opportunity presents itself, whether it is fossil or biomass. Of course this means the expense of an alternate heating system, but it's a solution that will guarantee being in the right place at the right time all the time.

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