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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WoodMaster furnace owners share one regret: not switching sooner.

Posted by Todd Strem on Wed,Aug 31,2011 @ 11:17 AM

Christa, Marilyn & Rob Beauchesne of Northern Outdoor Energy SystemsThe larger door. Strong insulation that keeps the heat in. Its ability to turn off the fan if the wood gets low. Sturdy steel throughout. All are reasons why Canadian company Northern Outdoor Energy Systems Ltd. was attracted to WoodMaster furnaces and began selling them in May 2005.

Owners Rob and Marilyn Beauchesne had been in the outdoor furnace business for two years before the WoodMaster furnace features caught their attention. Over the past six years of selling WoodMaster furnaces, the Beauchesne’s business has benefited from happy WoodMaster customers. Marilyn explains, “Our customers are extremely pleased with the performance of the WoodMaster furnace, and as they recommend it to their family and friends, our business grows.”

Like Richard Worley, Marilyn reports the 4400 WoodMaster furnace as their biggest seller. “With its 5,000-square-foot capacity, it can heat a home, shop, domestic water heater and hot tub all at once,” Marilyn explains. “Our customers are happy with the heat it produces and wish they had purchased one years ago!”

After selling over 400 outdoor furnaces, the Beauchesnes feel “extremely confident” in the quality and performance of the WoodMaster furnaces. Proof that customers agree is evidenced by the many trade-ins of other brands brought to the store. WoodMaster furnace owners enjoy steady warmth in their homes and always-hot water, as well as a significant decrease in heating bills.

Many of the Beauchesne’s customers share only one regret, and that is: “We wish we would have done this years ago.”

Have you ever been so happy with a product or service that your only regret was not buying it sooner? What was it?

Topics: Wood furnaces, woodmaster 4400, woodmaster owner, outdoor furnace canada, canada, OHH, outdoor furnace owner, Rob Beauchesne, Marilyn Beauchesne, Northern Outdoor Energy Systems, canadian dealer, woodmaster, wood furnace, northwest manufacturing, WoodMaster Dealer, home heating, heating systems, lower heating costs, outdoor wood furnace, outdoor hydronic heater, outdoor wood furnaces

Clean burn, healthy planet

Posted by Kelsey Gagner on Mon,Aug 22,2011 @ 11:19 AM

Forest photo from sxc.huIf burning through your budget isn’t reason enough to switch, consider the environmental benefits of heating with an outdoor wood-burning furnace.

Burning wood is carbon neutral. Though it does release some carbon dioxide into the earth’s atmosphere, the amount released is equal to the amount trees absorb as they grow. Compared to fossil fuels, wood’s balanced carbon exchange is impressive. Fossil fuels have no way of counter-balancing the gas production. Wood is naturally carbon neutral.

Wood is also renewable. As fossil fuels’ carbon footprint grows, our stock of them shrinks. When we run out of oil, coal and natural gas, they’ll be gone. Forever. Wood, however, is completely renewable. That’s right, you can’t grow oil. But you can sure grow trees. Right here in America. Beautiful.

Since WoodMaster furnaces burn so efficiently, the time it takes to grow a tree is fast enough to replace the tree that was cut down for use in a furnace. This means your WoodMaster furnace keeps your home warm and your property lined with trees.

WoodMaster furnaces burn cleanly. Compared to the 7.5 grams per hour of carbon emissions produced by an indoor wood stove, a WoodMaster pellet furnace emits just 1.2 grams per hour of carbon. That’s a considerable difference.

We hope this is clear: WoodMaster furnaces take it easy on your wallet and our world. Now that’s something worth sharing.

Did you switch your home heat source to an outdoor wood furnace because of its environmental advantages? Please, do tell.

Topics: Wood furnaces, woodmaster, renewable energy, wood furnace, wood master, carbon footprint, clean burn, outdoor wood furnace, clean energy, green technology

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