NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

March 8, 2014

Cold winter fuels wood pellet shortage

Wood pellet shortages reported at local stores

BY ANGELJEAN CHIARAMIDA
STAFF WRITER

---- — AMESBURY— Pellet stoves are known to burn cleaner, heat an area more evenly than wood stoves and help reduce winter heating costs from traditional sources like oil and propane. But to do that, stove owners need a source of wood pellets, and finding them lately hasn’t been easy.

“I have a list of 63 people waiting for us to get in our next shipment of wood pellets,” said Kevin Lordan, manager at Amesbury’s Martignetti Enterprises. “I know a lot of businesses who sell wood pellets and nobody has any. Even big stores, like Lowe’s and Home Depot, are out. It’s unreal.”

Lordan said he’s been promised a shipment by his supplier within the next 10 to 12 days, or sooner. He ordered that load three weeks ago, he said, and people keep calling and asking to be put on his list.

“They say, ‘OK, I guess I’ll have to use my oil or propane, but please call me as soon as the you get them in,’ “ Lordan said.

A call to Lowe’s and Home Depot in Seabrook found that Lordan was correct. Neither store had wood pellets currently, although Lowe’s is expecting a shipment next week and advising customers to call to learn when. Home Depot wasn’t as optimistic.

One place in the region still with a daily supply of wood pellets is the “Home and Health” on Route 1 in Hampton Falls. But as word spread, so many people showed up that the backup of cars caused traffic problems on Thursday. To ensure that didn’t happen again, manager Harry Fallon brought in additional staff to handle things so as not to affect local roads.

“I’ve never had so many new customers,” said Fallon, who also sells wood stoves, as well as pellets stoves and pellet central heating units. “We’re still getting our regular daily delivery from our supplier. We’re selling out in about two hours and we’re limiting it to (selling) five bags per customer.”

Fallon blames the shortage on the extended and extremely cold winter, as well as the increasing number of pellet stoves, or pellet stove inserts, being purchased and installed.

“This is the coldest winter we’ve experienced since pellet stoves came into general use,” Fallon said. “People normally go through a (40 pound) bag (of wood pellets) a day. With temperatures so cold, they’re going through two or three bags some days. No one expected that.”

Wood pellets are made of compressed sawdust, and it’s customary for manufacturers to base their production runs on the amount sold in previous winters, Fallon said. With this winter’s extended frigid temperatures all over the country, manufacturers weren’t prepared for the huge demand.

“They’re still making wood pellets, they just can’t make them fast enough,” Fallon said. “And many of the Canadian plants where wood pellets are made are living with temperatures that are 20 degrees below zero. They can’t make them under those circumstances. It all really revolved around how cold it’s been.”

Both Fallon and Lordan still praise the heating form. With oil, natural gas and propane costs rising over recent years, more and more people turned pellet stoves as an alternative that could save a little money. Pellet stoves have become more desirable than wood burning stoves because they’re neater, the men said, and burn cleaner and more efficiently.

“With wood, you have to worry about if it’s seasoned properly, or if it’s too green to burn,” Lordan said. “With wood pellets that’s not a problem. Sacks can be stacked neatly in the house without worrying about bringing pests in the way you do with firewood. And pellets are a recycled product. That’s an important factor around here.”

Fallon agreed, adding that he recommends to his customers that they stock up, purchasing pellets during the off season.

“We drop our prices in the off season and encourage our customers to pre-order and pre-buy wood pellets for the coming year,” Fallon said. “But our pre-orders and pre-buying dropped off dramatically this year, and that’s another reason there’s a problem now.”