On one of the nicest days so far this year my husband and I took a field trip to Burlington, Vermont to check out all the green exhibits at the Vermont Home and Garden Show.
The first exhibit I saw was a “tri-exhibit” of Pellergy, Vermont Renewable Fuels and Green Mountain Wood Pellets . These three companies work together to provide homeowners with a no-fuss wood pellet boiler system. I know very little about wood pellet boilers, so I imagined that every few hours you have to go down to the deep dark recesses of your home, grab a few scoopfuls of pellets and feed it to a big scary oven. I believed that having a pellet furnace would be both inconvenient and tie you down — you could never leave your house for longer than a few hours without the place freezing up. But that image is totally wrong and misguided; these boilers are like modern gas or oil boilers only with a much lower carbon footprint. They heat the water just as effectively as oil and gas, while the wood pellets are delivered to your house, directly to your storage container through a vacuum hose that looks not unlike an oil hose.
Pellergy Alpha Self-Cleaning Boiler is made in Austria and uses wood pellets to produce enough heat to boil the water that goes through your radiant flooring system or radiator system. The difference between this system and an oil or gas boiler is only the fuel source. The ignition system that is used monitors demand and temperature and adjusts accordingly. Pellets are fed through a vacuum transfer system to the heating chamber when needed. I asked the exhibitor about the insurance issues — what do home insurers think about a fuel system made from wood? He said that insurers don’t have a problem with it because oil and gas are significantly more explosive than the wood pellets. And in terms of spillage, he said, “If you have a pellet spill, you use a broom to sweep it up.” Quite a bit different from an oil spill!
Pellergy boilers keep track of how many tons of wood are burned and when it reaches a certain amount, it connected wirelessly to the pellet delivery service, which will then schedule a delivery of more pellets. While the delivery truck looks just like an oil tanker, it’s filled with wood pellets. A vacuum system feeds the pellets into the home’s storage tank.
Pellets are fed automatically to the boiler, so you never have to worry about feeding the system — unless of course there’s a power outage. There is a manual system available, but the company has never installed one.
What I really liked about this system was the vertical integration. Last year Vermont Renewable Fuels bought its own mill which uses local Vermont white pine — essentially a weed tree that needs to be cleared out of the forest anyway. Foresters now have a market for this tree. Another benefit is that the mix of the white pine fibers with its sap produces a “premium quality” pellet that burns at the optimal temperature for longer and cleaner than a “high quality” pellet producing less ash than other pellets. One of the issues with pellet furnaces is the amount of ash that can build up after burning. The Pellergy units are self-cleaning. Using it together with the low-ash producing wood pellets will also mean less maintenance.
The cost of the system ranges from US$9,999 (A-60 Manual Feed) to US$11699 (AV-100) Vacuum feed plus tax and installation. There are additional costs for the storage container as well. Rebates and incentives for wood pellet systems will vary depending on where in New England you live. You can check with a Pellergy installer or look on the DSIRE website. (Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency)
Fuel rates: there is a good cost comparison to oil on Pellergy’s website, but basically, the cost of a ton of pellets ranges between US$240-290/ton. Based on the amount used through a winter equates to $2.14 per gallon of oil.
Carbon neutrality: using wood as fuel is considered carbon neutral as it is considered the same as if it had decayed naturally in the forest at end-of-life. Carbon is stored in wood until it is released upon burning or natural decay.
Other good resources for information on financial help for renewable energy systems in Vermont are: