Wednesday, October 22nd marks national recognition of the increased use America’s forests and fields to generate heat and power for homes, factories, business firms, and public buildings. It is known as National Bioenergy Day.

Using wood to heat homes and business has always been standard here in Maine, long before terms such as “biomass” and “bioenergy” were coined. It was called “firewood.”

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Since then, wood has been put to use, as wood chips from logs and forest residue, termed “biomass”, to generate electricity, particularly in Maine’s paper mills.  This generation of biomass electricity has been expanded well beyond paper mills, by firms such as the ReEnergy Maine plants located in Fort Fairfield, Ashland, Stratton, and Livermore Falls.

The newest addition to “biomass” goes back to heat, this time with chips and wood pellets, the latter manufactured in Maine by Northeast Pellets in Ashland, Corinth Pellets in Corinth, Maine Woods Pellet Company in Athens, and Geneva Wood Fuels in Strong.

Many Maine homeowners are finding wood pellets, burned in high-intensity pellet stoves, to be an easy alternative to handling firewood. These stoves also generate virtually zero smoke into the atmosphere, a marked improvement over older cordwood stoves and fireplaces.

Even more convenient are pellet boiler systems, which now provide central heating to an increasing number of schools, business firms, and homes in Maine. Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor is one of the largest pellet-heated facilities in the country. A program administered by the Maine Forest Service has financially assisted the installation of pellet and wood chip heat in 24 public buildings in Maine, most of them schools and colleges. Equally significant, an incentive program provided by Efficiency Maine has enabled hundreds of Maine homeowners to convert to central pellet heat; these conversions are now proceeding at the rate of one a day.

This conversion to pellet heat is accelerated by the fact that two national leaders in the distribution of European pellet boilers are located in Maine: Interphase Energy in Portland, and Maine Energy Systems which is now actually assembling pellet boilers in Bethel.

Maine’s rapidly growing  pellet heat industry is recognized as a national leader, with a better-developed infrastructure for domestic heating—pellet manufacturers, boiler firms, bulk delivery trucks, trained installers-than any other state. The logic for this conversion is simple: Maine also has, of all states, the highest percentage of homes dependent on oil heat, and the largest percentage of forested land.

On October 2, Maine’s Governor LePage and U.S. Senator King joined with managers of the ReEnergy plant in Ashland for an early celebration of National Bioenergy day, praising the re-opening of that plant and the restoration of the 25 jobs lost when that plant shut down in 2011. Over 20% of Maine’s electric generation now comes from biomass power plants.

On October 22, Northern Maine Community College in Presque Isle will receive a delivery of bulk pellets from Northeast Pellets in Ashland to its campus heating system at 9 a.m.  Bill Greaves from the Maine Forest Service, which helped NMCC fund the pellet boiler installation, will be on hand for the delivery along with Matt Bell, President and CEO of Northeast Pellets. Bell is also the President of the Maine Pellet Fuels Association.