N.H. Firewood, Wood Pellet Supplies Are Strong; Prices Slightly Lower

  • A large volume of de-barked firewood is seen at Burton Outdoor Living in Bow on Friday, Aug. 26, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 8/29/2016 11:36:17 PM
Modified: 8/30/2016 10:54:09 AM

Thanks in part to last year’s warm winter, people who heat their homes with wood should have no trouble buying fuel this season, unlike the scrambles of 2014, and may pay slightly less than last year.

“Availability (of firewood) is really good this year. Everybody still has some left over,” said Scott Michaud, manager of Burton Outdoor Living in Bow, which sold about 700 cords of firewood last year.

He said his prices are about $10 a cord less than last year, at roughly $250 a cord for debarked green wood, $300 for seasoned.

Wood pellets also appear to be in good supply.

“Hardwood pellets, our bread and butter, they are readily available,” said Lee Hughston, store manager for the Osborne’s Agway in Concord. “There’s nothing on the horizon — no sense ...   that it’s going to be a problem this season.”

Heavily forested New Hampshire burns more wood for home heating than almost any other state. As of 2015, 1 out of every 12 New Hampshire home relies on firewood or wood pellets for primary heating, and between 2005 and 2012 that figure more than doubled, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, largely due to the boom in wood pellet stoves and boilers.

This growth backfired in the late winter of 2014-15, when a long cold snap led to a shortage of firewood and pellets partly because of a surge in demand and partly because the relatively young pellet industry has not developed enough storage and logistics systems to deal with big swings.

Then last winter’s warm temperatures cut demand sharply, as did the fall in prices for heating oil, leading to an excess in wood supply.

“People who could flip the switch (to) propane and oil did, and that cut down on usage,” Hughston said. “It took a little bit of a toll on sales.”

Concord Agway’s hardwood pellets are manufactured by plants in the Northeast, including New England Wood Pellet in Jaffrey, Hughston said. It also sells softwood pellets manufactured in Canada.

Softwood pellets tend to be more expensive than hardwood pellets because they often provide more heat per pound and create less ash, although different stoves and manufacturing methods can affect this.

Hughston said overall prices were about the same as last year, currently around $259 a ton for hardwood pellets.

They had been slightly cheaper earlier in the summer, but as September approaches, people start thinking about getting supplies for the winter and prices begin to rise.

“A lot of people are dragging their feet. They got complacent, they’re thinking it’s warm ... and they’re going to wait,” said Henry McManus of McManus Coal and Pellet Sales in Barrington.

McManus said his prices are about $10 to $12 a ton less this year than last, running between $248 and $279 a ton for softwood pellets from Canadian suppliers.

“It’s probably because they’ve got a little bit more inventory than last year,” McManus said. He does not sell hardwood pellets.

McManus has been selling pellets for nine years and said he has seen it grow from a small market to dominating his firm, which was started by his father in 1955.

“It’s insane how this business has grown,” he said of wood pellets.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313, dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

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