DOVER, N.H. (AP) - The long cold winter has taken a bite out of the wood pellet supply in Northern New England, forcing some dealers to ration the fuel that has been growing in popularity.
"It's been a lot colder than average, and neither consumers nor retailers planned for it," said Charles Niebling, a consultant for New England Wood Pellet in Jaffrey. "The situation is temporary and will alleviate with more seasonable temps."
Customers bought fuel based on past usage but relentless weeks of cold mean they're burning their woodstoves longer than they did last year, Niebling said. Plus, more people are using the pellets: They're cleaner than hardwood, easier to handle and store, more efficient and ready to burn. The compressed nuggets of sawdust are even popping up in commercial and industrial sites.
They're also relatively cheap. As of Feb. 24, bulk pellets in New Hampshire cost $14.71 per million BTU, the standard way to compare heating costs. That was second cheapest, behind natural gas at $13.68 per million BTU.
Mark Higgins, co-owner of EverGreen Home & Hearth in Maine, said he's sold 11 percent more of the pellets compared to last year and even picked up customers as larger retailers have run out.
"It's good business, but I am ready for it to end," he said. "I wouldn't mind seeing spring myself."
The owner of Maine's largest manufacturer of wood pellets, Maine Woods Pellet Company, estimates his business has sold 15 to 20 percent more wood pellets this year than the past three years and will try to increase production by 10 percent this year.
"I think we're going to try and boost up production to 110,000 pounds this year," owner Robert Letterlink said.
At New England Wood Pellet, the company has been producing at maximum capacity for years with no slowdown, Niebling said. The company stockpiles significant inventories during the summer months.
A spokeswoman for Home Depot told Foster's Daily Democrat that due to high demand, regional vendors have a smaller supply of pellets. She said the company is working with vendors to replenish the supply.
Some stores have been limiting customers to five bags of pellets or fewer.
Chad Merrill, manager of The Stove Depot in Ferrisburgh, Vt., said the store's stockpile of wood pellets is smaller than usual. By Merrill's estimate, customers who usually burned 3 to 4 tons of pellets have gone through 5 to 6 tons this season.
"And we're not through winter yet," Merrill said.
Associated Press writers Beth Garbitelli in Montpelier, Vt., Blake Davis in Portland, Maine and Rik Stevens in Concord, N.H., contributed to this report.