BANGOR, Maine — Three Maine wood pellet producers have been granted more than $100,000 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program for producing alternative fuels.
Corinth Wood Pellets LLC in Corinth was awarded $31,406, Geneva Wood Fuels LLC in Strong got $11,825, and Maine Woods Pellet Co. LLC in Athens received $58,922.
“It certainly helps in this kind of economy,” said Robert Linkletter, owner of Maine Woods Pellet Co.
The Bioenergy Program for Advance Biofuels, which has been around since 2009, awarded grants to more than 160 energy producers in 41 states.
“Renewable energy production will create tens of thousands of direct, American jobs, thousands more indirect jobs, and clean electricity to power millions of homes,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a press release. “The payments I am announcing today represent the continuing commitment of the Obama administration to work with producers to provide the biofuel necessary to reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign energy sources. The payments support America’s growing advanced biofuel industry.”
Money awarded was based on metric tons of wood pellets produced and Btus generated, according to the press release.
“It’s based on how many gallons [of heating oil] we replace. We get a slight percentage of it,” said Linkletter.
USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel was happy to see Maine companies on the list of recipients.
“I am so pleased these three Maine advanced biofuel producers have received USDA Rural Development funding under this important program,” Manuel said in the press release. “The support of these rural businesses is vital in ensuring the local production and availability of renewable energy sources and helping to support Maine’s biomass companies.”
U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, also voiced her support.
“As winter approaches, it is critical Mainers have access to affordable and efficient home heating options to keep warm without breaking the bank,” Snowe said in a statement. “I am proud of these three alternative energy companies in Maine, who are leading the way in wood pellet biofuel, and look forward to their expanded endeavors and innovations in the future.”
Jonathan Kahn, president of Geneva Wood Fuels, said wood pellet producers received smaller portions of the grant compared with other biofuel producers.
“As users of forests and wood products, our credits were discounted by 85 percent,” said Kahn.
“We don’t get as much as the guys that do corn [biofuel] do,” said Linkletter.
All three businesses were happy to hear the news about receiving the funds.
“It’s an assistance that we really can use. This is the only government assistance that we receive,” said Kahn.
“This is to help us continue to grow our business. So it’s very supportive of the jobs we have,” said Corinth Wood Pellets Chief Financial Officer Steve Goldberg.
Linkletter said his business has been doing well in its fourth year.
“Now that [fuel prices] have stabilized, it’s made us very competitive,” Linkletter said. “We can beat oil very handily right now. [Heating oil prices] would have to come down an awful lot to compete with us again. Right now, people with pellets are saving about half of their fuel costs [compared to oil].”
“[There’s a] very healthy demand for pellets,” said Kahn. “We’re very gratified with customer interest. There’s been a very nice uptick in new pellet stove purchases.”
This month, Mark Wolfe of the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association said it will cost $500 more to heat a New England home this winter as compared to last year.
“New England is very oil-dependent,” said Kahn. “There will be a time in the very near future when diesel, gasoline and heating oil [prices] start rising again. Our pellet prices are already attractive. They’ll be even more attractive.”
Kahn said Geneva Wood Fuels has 15 full-time employees and uses up to 80 when woodsman and drivers are taken into account.
Corinth Wood Pellets has 11 full-time employees, according to Goldberg.