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Pellet Shortage Hits Town

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by Carla Occaso

Pellets in short supply
Pellets in short supply

 

MONTPELIER — If you live in this area and own a wood pellet stove, you might be having trouble finding pellets, unless you already bought a year’s worth last fall. According to several local dealers, pellets have sold out early and they can’t re-supply. Suggested reasons for the dearth range from the small size of our market — large dealers want to sell out of state (some out of the country) where they can make more money — to an increased local demand due to more pellet stove purchases.

Raymond Plagge, owner Vermont Stove Works, sells pellet stoves and pellets. His pellet supply has been coming in and quickly depleting in recent weeks. “Every year  more and more pellet stoves are brought into the market place. Every time you add a pellet stove into the marketplace, you add six ton (of pellets) into the marketplace,” Plagge said. He said there was a spike in pellet stove purchases when the price of oil went up to the $3.50 to $4.50 per gallon range, but now it might make just as much sense to burn oil, with the price of oil lower.

In addition, Plagge said his Canadian supplier sells a lot of pellets overseas rather than in the U.S. “I read in a trade magazine the little country of Italy burns more pellets than the whole United States. It is not just Italy. They are going all over Europe. Europe doesn’t have any trees. The Germans aren’t cutting down that beautiful forest to make wood pellets. They might be making cuckoo clocks, but they aren’t making pellets.” … “I’ve had a contract with one of my pellet suppliers and they cut me back by four to three truck loads, which is huge for me. They oversold in the summer,” he said. Plagge said if a customer came to purchase a pellet stove today, in light of the pellet supply situation, he would attach a contract for them to buy a ton of pellets as well.

Tractor Supply sells the stoves and the pellets as well. Store manager Adam Lane said he just got a shipment and he is rationing the amount he sells. Lane said keeping warm is a full time job. “In Vermont, we have the heating season and we have the getting-ready-for-heating season,” he said. Lane said that when he sells a stove, he also warns customers to purchase a full season of pellets with it.

“Every year at this time there is almost always a shortage,” said David Ide, owner of Agway which has sold out of pellets months ago. “We’ve been telling people that it is going to be difficult. Suppliers have been telling me they can’t keep up with it. They don’t store well, so the vendors can’t make extra.” Ide said many factors contribute to the shortage in central Vermont, including a lack of incentive for truckers to haul pellets from Maine, Canada or New Hampshire if there is nothing to return with. In summer, truckers can go up to Derby hauling cedar mulch, for example. But in winter, Vermont doesn’t have much for truckers to haul on the return trip. In addition, there are simply fewer truckers around.

Forest Neill, manager at Guy’s Farm and Yard, is out of pellets. “Everyone was so nervous about last year’s shortage that they pre-bought,” Neill said. Even Wal-Mart can’t keep them in stock. “It has been cold and demand is high,” said assistant manager Ferdinand Royer. The last supply he got has sold out.

Cliff Dodge, owner of the Dairy Creme, got into the pellet selling business due to a shortage just like this one years ago. He could only find dealers who would sell him hundreds of tons, not just a few tons, so he bought them in bulk and sold the rest. This year the shortage has hit early.  “I ran out last November,” he said. In addition, “There are just not enough manufacturing plants to supply us. A lot of us have to tell the supplier how much we want in advance. I ordered 300 ton. I got 300 ton and couldn’t get more,” Dodge said. “I used to burn cord wood, but it is so much work. I’m an old geezer now and pellets are easier.”

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