Unplugged Energy Independence

Amid soaring propane prices, a rising interest in alternatives

Posted by Kelsey Loeffler on Tue,Feb 11,2014 @ 10:40 AM

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While sky-high propane prices are causing hardships for many businesses and homeowners, they’re also helping generate interest in renewable alternatives such as wood, solar and geothermal.

Companies that sell solar thermal, geothermal and wood furnaces are reporting an uptick in phone calls and inquiries over the past few weeks as propane customers in the region suffer through near-record prices and localized shortages. (photo courtesy Solar Skies)

The evidence is only anecdotal at this point, and most said the buzz hadn’t yet translated into new sales, but at least one shop is ramping up production in anticipation of new orders.

Northwest Manufacturing, which makes wood-fired furnaces under the WoodMaster brand, started offering overtime this week to workers at its factory in Red Lake Falls, Minnesota, as it attempts to double production. It also plans to make up to six new hires.

“It’s been just a blur since [three weeks ago],” said Todd Strem, the company’s sales and marketing manager. “It’s definitely affected us in a positive way.”

This is typically a slow time of year for heating system sales, Strem said, but WoodMaster’s dealers are reporting a steady stream of people stopping in to ask about the furnaces. The company’s website traffic has more than doubled in the last month.

At Strandlund Refrigeration Heating & Cooling in Mora, Minnesota, salesman Rod Herwig said they’re fielding more calls than usual from people curious about geothermal systems.

“I can’t say it’s overwhelming, but to be honest, yeah, there’s more interest right now than there has been for a bit,” Herwig said. “And now is usually our quiet time.”

Herwig estimated that they’ve received six or seven phone calls in the past two weeks from people seeking quotes or other information about geothermal systems. During busier months, it’s typically only four or five per month.

It’s too soon to say whether that interest will translate into new sales and installations. Herwig suspects that will depend on what happens to propane price in the coming weeks.

“We’ll know six months from now,” Herwig said.

It’s the same story at Solar Skies Manufacturing in Alexandria, Minnesota. The company manufacturers solar thermal systems for hot water and space heating.

“We can feel the interest level has picked up in the last two weeks,” said CEO Randy Hagen. “It’s too early to convert that into new orders yet, but our quoting level for those types of customers has definitely increased — a lot.”

A solar thermal system won’t entirely eliminate a home or business’s heating bill, but a typical system might cover 65 percent of water heating or 30 percent of space heating.

The price for a system varies significantly depending on the size, features and location, but an average cost for a residential system is around $10,000, Hagen said. Some of that cost can be offset with state and federal incentives.

However, amid a spike in propane prices, the payback time on solar thermal, geothermal, and wood heating systems looks much better today than it did at the start of winter.

Northwest Manufacturing sold a WoodMaster system to a school in northeastern Minnesota that was previously heated with propane. Strem said the original payback time it calculated for the school was around six or seven years.

If propane and wood pellet prices were to stay where they’re at — a big “if” — Strem said the school district could break even on their investment in as little as two years.

The Rural Renewable Energy Alliance, a Minnesota nonprofit that manufactures and sells subsidized solar furnaces to low-income families, isn’t yet sure how the propane pinch will affect its program, but program manager Shannon Wheeler said it certainly underscores its importance.

“It makes that work all the more necessary,” Wheeler said. “Our families that are on propane and also have a solar air heat system … are not going through their propane as quickly and hopefully don’t have to refill with these higher prices.”

How long propane prices stay high will likely determine how much of this winter’s interest in renewable alternatives can be converted into new installations later in the year.

Said Strem: “It’s going to make for an interesting year if this continues.”

Article written by Dan Haugen from Midwest Daily News.

Topics: woodmaster, pellet fuel, pellet furnace, Pellet furnaces, renewable fuel, alternative energy, alternative heating, alternative fuel, natural energy, WoodMaster boiler, renewable energy, wood furnace, wood pellet heat, wood pellet heating, WoodMaster Commercial Series

Getting gouged by propane prices?

Posted by Kelsey Loeffler on Thu,Jan 30,2014 @ 09:54 AM

alternative heatingGetting gouged by propane prices? If so, you're not alone. Some 14 million Americans who rely on propane have been shelling out more and more to heat their homes while the strong demand has outpaced the already low inventories, energy officials say.

Now is a better time than ever to switch to alternative energy. Free yourself from the rollercoaster of fluctuating fossil fuel prices.

Don't just take our word for it. Here are some recent articles from around the U.S

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Scott Walker declares state of emergency on propane shortage.

Citing another wave of frigid weather bearing down on Wisconsin and dangerously low supplies of propane, Governor Scott Walker has declared a state of emergency. Walker directed all state agencies "to assist as appropriate" in helping residents deal with the propane shortage, which has sent prices soaring and left some users struggling to find a supplier who will provide fuel.

Nearly 250,000 Wisconsin homes heat with propane, many in rural areas not served by natural gas lines.

The shortage — attributed to a colder-than-normal winter, the shutdown of a key supply pipeline earlier in the season and heavy use of propane by farmers to dry grain last fall — has sent prices for many customers well above $5 a gallon. Read the full article here.

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Midwest faces propane emergency as more cold weather moves in.

Millions of residents in the Midwest and Northeast who rely on propane to heat their homes are facing a severe shortage and spiking prices as another wave of freezing weather heads east. Now, states across the region are deploying emergency resources as a result.

Blame for the propane shortage lies with the wetter-than-usual fall, which meant that farmers used more propane than usual to dry corn crops; an unusually cold winter; and a temporary shutdown of a major pipeline for maintenance this year.

As a result, propane prices are setting new records. The average price of a gallon of residential propane for the week ending Jan. 20 hit $2.96, according to the Energy Information Administration, up 60 cents from mid-October, the highest price ever recorded by the agency. Prices in the Midwest are even higher; on Friday, prices ended at $4.30 a gallon in the Midwest, down from a peak of about $5 a gallon. Read full article here.

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Propane shortage slams farmers.

A propane squeeze caused by January’s bitter cold has put the hurt on Minnesota’s livestock industry, as farmers scramble to find costly fuel to keep their animals warm.

Some turkey growers are being told by suppliers that the propane spigot might get turned off if the cold keeps up over the next week.

Shortage worries are particularly acute in the ­turkey industry, and Minnesota is the nation’s leading turkey-producing state, with about 250 growers.

Fuel suppliers have told some farmers that they have “five days left of propane,” said Steve Olson, executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association. “The big concern is availability.”

Farmers — along with propane users of all stripes — are paying huge premiums for the fuel these days. Wholesale spot prices in Minnesota have gone from about $3.75 per gallon a few days ago to just south of $5 a gallon. Last fall, the propane price was $1.55 per gallon, and most of the run-up since then has occurred this month. Read full article here.

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U.S. propane shortage hits millions during brutal freeze.

Millions of Americans are feeling the pinch of a propane shortage this week as brutal cold exposes the supply vulnerabilities of a fuel that heats homes, schools and businesses across wide swathes of the United States.

Prices of the fuel, a liquefied petroleum gas, have rocketed to all-time highs in Midwestern states, distributors are rationing supplies, and some schools have shut due to a lack of the fuel during this year's second bout of Arctic weather.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has issued emergency orders suspending the limits on the amount of time truck drivers can spend on the road for 10 Midwestern states and 12 Northeastern states, a rare regional order. Read full article here.

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Prolonged cold blast worsens propane shortage across Midwest.

America’s chronic cold is creating a significant propane shortage across the Midwest — leading Wisconsin to become the latest state to declare an energy emergency in advance of more arctic air blasting eastward this week.

Some 14 million Americans who rely on that type of fuel have been shelling out more and more to heat their homes while the strong demand has outpaced the already-low inventories, energy officials say.

Twenty-four states, including Ohio, Illinois and Alabama, have already declared energy emergencies — which helps to loosen transportation rules so that out-of-state truckers can drive longer hours to make needed propane deliveries. Read full article here.

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Now is a great time to research alternative heating products. Take the time to learn about the products available to you and the changes the EPA will be making to the wood burning industry.

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NH Introduces Non-Residential Wood Pellet Rebate Program

Posted by Kelsey Loeffler on Tue,Dec 31,2013 @ 11:27 AM

WoodMaster Commercial SeriesNew Hampshire has released a rebate program for commercial and industrial bulk fuel fed wood pellet central heating systems.

Key Components of the Rebate Program:

  • The rebate will cover 30% of the costs of purchase and installation, up to a maximum of $50,000, for investments in non-residential bulk fuel fed wood pellet boilers and furnaces of 2.5 million BTU or less.
  • An additional rebate for 30% of the costs of thermal storage tanks, up to a maximum of $5,000, is also available.
  • The budget for this program is $629,000 for state fiscal year 2014, ending June 30, 2014.
  • The new program also requires rebate recipients to "benchmark" the energy performance of the building that will house the new heating system to demonstrate opportunities for additional efficiency improvements.

Read the full description of the rebate program here.

Read the terms and conditions of the rebate program in Step 1 of the application form here.

Topics: energy-efficient fuel, alternative energy sources, wood pellets, commercial boiler, commercial boilers, Commercial Series, woodmaster, energy-efficient heating, renewable fuel, alternative energy, alternative heating, alternative fuel, natural energy, renewable energy, wood pellet heat, wood pellet heating, WoodMaster Commercial Series, alternative home heating

How WoodMaster helps customers heat in style

Posted by Kelsey Gagner on Fri,Feb 10,2012 @ 02:49 PM

Eric Brannon, owner of Lawn Masters & MoreEric Brannon has been selling firewood for 15 years, but it wasn’t until spring 2011 that he began selling WoodMaster stoves. His reasoning for becoming a dealer? Good ol‘ competition.

“There’s only one person in the area who sells wood furnaces, and I decided he needed a little bit of competition,” says Eric, founder and owner of Lawn Masters & More in Athens, Ohio.

Lawn Masters & More is a contracting and construction landscape business, but they also distribute firewood, which Eric uses to supplement his income during the winter months. Selling wood stoves is a natural fit to accompany Eric’s firewood distribution, and the business the stoves bring in have helped further bridge gaps in his income.

Eric is currently selling all the WoodMaster outdoor wood burning furnaces, and his best-selling stove is the WoodMaster 4400. He has sold six in less than a year and says every customer has been pleased with their stove’s natural energy and ability to lower heating costs.

Eric runs his business on the tenet that home landscaping is an expression of your personal style, which is one of the reasons he said he chose to sell WoodMaster.

“The unit is pretty refined in looks, compared to others in the market,” says Eric. “If you are going to burn firewood for your main source of heat, then WoodMaster is a no-brainer for both energy efficiency and aesthetics.”

Topics: woodmaster stove, dealer spotlight, eric brannon, lawn masters & more, woodmaster outdoor wood-burning furnaces, Wood furnaces, woodmaster 4400, ohio woodmaster dealer, energy-efficient stove, natural energy, wood master, WoodMaster Dealer, lower heating costs

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