New pellet technology boiling Fort Kent diner

Posted Nov. 02, 2008, at 9:14 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 5:55 a.m.

FORT KENT, Maine — Peter Pinette is not the least bit disturbed that his new pellet stove seems smarter than some people. In fact, he finds it a bit comforting.

“It was created by some smart people,” Pinette said of the newly installed Bosch Thermotechnologies pellet burner and boiler system. “It’s a result of the evolution of technology in this country that’s now being directed toward alternative fuels and energy.”

Pinette, owner of Rock’s Diner, knew he had to do something about his heating bill when oil began flirting with $5 a gallon in northern Maine.

At the time, he was considering converting his system to coal-fired when a customer suggested he check out a new line of pellet burners and boilers coming out of Maine Energy Systems in Bethel.

“I went down [in July] to look it over and saw one in [Maine Energy Systems’] founder’s home running all by itself,” Pinette said. “It was just a sweet unit.”

The level of automation is what makes the Bosch system so attractive, according to Pinette.

The system itself is really two units married into one — a pellet burner manufactured by the Swedish firm Janfire and the boiler made by the German company Bosch.

“Nine months ago this system did not exist,” Pinette said. “Now it’s Maine Energy Systems’ vision to bring them into Maine and New England.”

Les Otten, former ski industry mogul and part owner of the Boston Red Sox who invested $10 million of his own money to launch the company, founded Maine Energy Systems in 2007.

Maine Energy Systems began importing the pellet-fueled boilers and burners from Europe last summer.

For Pinette, it was love at first sight.

“I asked right off how to get one,” he said.

Turned out, since there were no dealers of the systems north of Portland, Pinette’s best option was to step up and fill that void.

So earlier this fall he and local plumbing contractor John Plourde traveled to Bethel for a training program on the system’s technology and installation procedures.

“The first 50 units that arrived in this country were sold right away,” Pinette said. “In early September we got one of them.”

The unit sits in the basement of the diner several feet away from a homemade hopper capable of storing up to 1 ton of wood pellets.

Given the Janfire burner’s track record, once Pinette fired it up for the first time he’ll never need to touch it again for six months.

Pinette explained that the burner has an automatic augur-feed system, automatic self-cleaning feature, and in the event of power loss, it rapidly restarts itself when the power comes back on.

“We use a lot of hot water here for cooking, doing dishes and cleaning,” Pinette said. “We are already seeing a savings.”

Based on his own analysis of oil needed to heat the diner’s water, Pinette said he was spending up to $17 a day this summer when oil hit its peak price.

That figure dropped to $7 a day once he converted to wood pellets.

“Even if oil goes down below $2 a gallon, this system will save me money,” he said. “The way prices are right now, I’ll probably see a payback in two years.”

Pinette said there has been a fair amount of interest in his new boiler-burner unit, and his new venture — Aroostook Energy Alternatives — is working with Maine Energy Systems to bring the units into the area.

A unit large enough to supply his business’ hot water needs now runs around $10,000. A residential unit would cost around $9,000.

“A typical home installation and setup would probably run around $12,000,” Pinette said. “I know it’s pricey, but once it’s in, the unit is completely automatic and clean with no dust and little ash produced.”

In the event of a power outage, the unit shuts itself down and, once power is restored, runs a self-diagnostic and restarts on its own.

As far as any maintenance, Pinette said accumulated ash must be cleaned out, and the inside of the boiler vacuumed periodically.

“This is something the homeowners can do themselves or call in a technician,” he said. “It should be done every two or three tons of pellets.”

Pinette is relying on John Plourde for all plumbing installation needs for the system and his own training plus firsthand knowledge of the unit.

“We are able to set these up as a team,” he said.

As for pellets, despite widespread concerns of shortages, Pinette said he has done the research, and there are plenty of pellets to go around.

In fact, he sees the day in the not too distant future when a truck loaded with pellets backs up to a homeowner’s basement door and delivers bulk pellets directly into a dry storage hopper.

Maine has approved the units for use with approved chimneys used with oil furnaces, and they are both ASME-certified and UL-approved.

“This is not new technology, but it is new to the state of Maine,” Pinette said. “In many ways we are behind the rest of the world, [and] we need to catch up.”

For information on the units, visit www.maineenergysys

tems.com.

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