Wood pellet pinch in Berkshire County


SCOTT STAFFORD, Berkshire Eagle Staff

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. -- Anyone who relies on a pellet stove is likely running short on fuel and patience by now -- the cold weather may be dragging on, but wood pellets have all but disappeared from stores.

Chad Forrest, manager of Aubuchon Hardware in Williamstown, said he’s getting 50 calls a day from folks seeking pellets.

"I’m afraid to answer the phone -- cause it’s going to be, ‘Do you have any pellets?’" he said.

Some folks are getting tense about it, Forrest added -- particularly those with no other heat source.

"Some people depend on wood pellets, so they’re having a hard time right now," Forrest said. "I don’t know what to tell them. We’re trying to get some in."

Across the Berkshires, retailers are out of stock on wood pellets, which come in 40 pound bags; heavy users often purchase them by the ton. They are in short supply right now due to a combination of factors, including a longer, colder winter throughout most of the nation and the growing popularity of wood pellets as a secondary source of heat.

A slowdown of production, due to the fact that the wood used as raw material freezes when it gets this cold and can’t be processed as quickly, adds to the scarcity of pellets.

"Frozen wood is harder to manufacture," Forrest said. "And with the longer, colder, harder winter, stores have run out of their normal supply -- now they need more."

Dalton resident Karen MacHaffie uses her pellet stove as a secondary source of heat, which helps cut down on her heating bill.

She has called a number of retailers, she said, but so far she has been unable to replenish her pellet supply.

"All were out, or may have some arriving mid next week," she said via email.

She came close on Wednesday, she said.

After learning on Tuesday night that there were some at a Home Depot in East Greenbush, N.Y., she decided to head over there first thing Wednesday.

"I was feeling pretty confident that I could buy 10 or 20 bags," she said. "Well, I guess I was wrong. I was told they had just sold them all out. I have posted on Facebook, but with no luck. Everyone says they are all out of stock."

Marshall Raser, president of Carr Hardware, said the suppliers are shipping out as much product as they can, but there are so many regions in need, there is just a trickle where there should be a flood. He uses about a dozen suppliers and they’re all saying the same thing: They can’t get any either.

"Hopefully we’ll have a shipment next week, but probably not before the weekend," he said. "And when they get here, they will go very fast. We’ve had to limit purchases to five bags per customer."

Keith Bona, a shop owner and city councilman in North Adams, said he depends on wood pellets to minimize his use of more expensive heating oil.

"The more we can use the pellets, the more it keeps the heating bill down," he said. "And it suddenly went from everybody (stores) having pellets, to nobody having them."

With stubborn cold temperatures hanging tight, folks are watching the thermostat and scavenging pellets where ever they can.

"We’re using as little as possible," MacHaffie said, "and running the stove on low when we’re not home -- along with prayers of warmer weather on the way."


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