Saw dust, which can be transformed into wood pellets, being moved at the Jay paper mill. Photo by Ramona du Houx

October/November 2008

By Ramona du Houx

Governor John E. Baldacci received the final report of the Governor’s Task Force on Wood to Energy. The 28-member task force met 15 times over eight months to produce the set of comprehensive recommendations to move Maine towards more reliance on wood energy and away from fossil fuels.

“As a state, Maine is the most dependent on oil for heat. A full 80 percent of Maine homes are heated with oil, using 400 million gallons of number 2 heating oil a year,” said Governor Baldacci. “We are also the most forested state. Our challenges are great, but so are the opportunities to become energy independent and secure, using in part our abundant wood resources.”

Some industry members have been concerned about the availability of wood sources to continue to suit the growing uses of wood.

“Our wood stocks are strong,” said Commissioner Patrick McGowan of the Department of Conservation. “Heating with wood pellets is sensible, economical, and it builds on Maine’s strengths.”

The Wood-to-Energy Task Force report is a critical piece of the Governor’s long-range goal to end Maine’s oil dependency.

“In the long term, we must be more aggressive in building our energy future together — a future that is built upon clean, renewable, home-grown energy sources,” said Baldacci. “Our starting point is assessing the wealth of natural resources we have at our disposal. We must be mindful of traditional uses of these resources and of their supply. We must find a win-win solution that enables Maine’s saw and pulp and paper mills to have access to the wood they need, while augmenting the supplies available for wood energy. The work the University of Maine is doing to develop bio-refinery technology to add and improve the return from pulp and paper mills is an example of how we can be smart about this, increasing energy supplies, while making our traditional industries more profitable.”

The chair of the task force, Les Otten, said, “There is a high demand for wood as an energy source. We have plenty of wood pellets with three Maine producers. It’s good for the state’s economy, keeping funds in Maine, saving Mainers money, so they can spend it here in Maine, as well.”

With the price of oil, many Mainers have already installed wood pellet stoves. In Europe they are a norm in many countries.

“There are plenty of wood pellets being manufactured in the state to meet demands here,” said George Soffron, CEO of Cornith Wood Pellets and task force member. “Recently there has been a rush on pellets, with people stocking up for the entire winter, so orders for most companies were backed up. But that would be the same if there was a rush to buy oil. The supply is there, and we will be producing pellets throughout the winter. There is no need for people to worry.”

For more information about the Wood-to-Energy Task Force, please visit the Department of Conservation Web site: http://www.maine.gov/doc/initiatives/woodtoenergy/task_force.html