Low energy prices force New England wood heat pioneers to pivot

It was May of 2014 and Charlie Niebling was feeling pretty good. As the wood buyer for New England Wood Pellets and a modern wood heat pioneer, he had reason to be optimistic. New England’s automated wood heat industry was finally beginning to hum.

For years, high energy prices were the driving force behind adoption of residential pellets stoves, spurring investment in wood pellet manufacturing and, concurrently, leading to the installation of hundreds of commercial wood-fired heating systems across Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

“By 2014 with the return of $4 a gallon heating oil and expensive propane, despite the declining price of natural gas, we had a solid core of wood heat vendors,” said Niebling, principal and partner at Innovative Natural Resource Solutions in Concord, N.H. “Companies had invested in pellet trucks (allowing automated delivery to homes and buildings). In New Hampshire alone, we had over 100 commercial and institutional pellet and chip installations in the five years prior. Basically, it was all systems go.”

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