Where Did All The Wood Pellets Go?

Feb 22, 2014

Some local residents are finding that it’s harder now to find wood pellets to fuel the stoves they are using to heat their homes, and those who produce and sell the pellets say there are reasons they’re in shorter supply this year.

Michelle Hogan of Bennington said she had noticed the problem recently and couldn’t find pellets in many local and national stores.

“Across the board, it’s hit or miss. They [store employees] tell you the truck’s coming in, [but] the truck doesn’t come in. Three days later, the truck comes in. By the time you get back, they’re gone,” she said.

Hogan, who is involved in a number of town events such as the Aurora Dance Party and Oktoberfest, said when she talks to other people, many of them are describing the same problem and going “from place to place to place.”

Craig Merrill, part owner of the Stove Depot, which has stores in Bennington, Ferrisburgh, North Clarendon and Londonderry, said they are still getting pellets but said sometimes ensuring their supply has to take place on a week-by-week basis.

Like many in the business, Merrill said he believes it’s this year’s very cold weather that has led to the short supply.

Peter Robertson, who runs the Stove Depot store in Londonderry, said that of the four kinds of pellet he sells, there’s only one he can’t get at the moment. But, he said, the evidence of a pellet shortage is there.

“In the last few days, I have been finding some new customers calling that I’ve not dealt with before that their usual source of pellets have run out, so they’re starting to call around and search,” he said.

The store has been able to sell a lot of pellets, but Robertson said that might be because some stove owners didn’t expect this season’s snow and cold.

“We were into the heating season early, so right now, people are finding that their usual supply of pellets or wood has about run out. We’ve had a lot longer season than what most people have planned on so a lot of people are finding that if they needed four tons of pellet to get through the winter, this year it’s five tons and they’re running out right about now,” he said.

Chris Brooks, CEO of the Vermont Wood Pellet Co. in North Clarendon, said he is in a unique position. He’s a manufacturer but can only produce a “finite number” which he sells in advance, but his position allows him some insight into the business and the operations of larger pellet manufacturers.

Brooks said he believes retailers should have ordered more for their customers.

"What everybody failed to realize was that this was going to be a colder and longer winter requiring more heating days." - Chris Brooks, CEO of the Vermont Wood Pellet Co.

“What’s happened is, most of the places people go to buy pellets, they looked at their books last year, they said, ‘We bought this many pellets last year. Therefore, this year maybe there’s a little 3 percent increase so let’s increase a little bit and buy that in pellet.’ What everybody failed to realize was that this was going to be a colder and longer winter requiring more heating days. More heating days means more heat, more pellets,” he said.

Brooks said some of the owners and leaders of large-scale pellet manufacturers that he knows have pellets to sell but it’s not always easy to find available trucks or other ways to get them to retailers.

It’s hard for either retailers or manufacturer to stockpile pellets, Brooks pointed out, because over time, they’ll begin to absorb moisture, making them less efficient. After about two years, or if their moisture content is more than 10 percent, the energy needed to burn pellets is more than they produce.

Nate Rice, an employee at Bennington Pool and Hearth, said people are coming to his store because they’re looking for the higher-quality pellets that provide a better return on the investment.

David Nydam, CEO, of WoodPellets.com in Bedford, N.H., said the other factor that might not be obvious to the domestic pellet user in Vermont is that the demand is not only growing domestically but in Europe.

Use of wood pellets, unlike the use of heating oil, is still relatively new, Nydam said, making it harder for the industry to set reliable standards for how many will be needed from year to year.

WoodPellets.com is currently not accepting orders from Bennington.