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EIA Administrator Sieminski says wood pellets represent a "significant opportunity" for consumers to save money
Bryant, Trane and American Standard furnaces needed repairs the least often, according to the Consumer Report survey of 32,251 appliances bought by subscribers of the magazine. Many other brands, including Carrier, Rheen, Ruud and Lennox, held up nearly as well. Consumer Reports also has excellent general advice about purchasing a gas furnace.

October 10, 2012- The U.S. government released its annual assessment of prices and availability of heating fuels today and for the first time it included information on pellets and firewood. After gas and electricity, wood is the third most common heating fuel in America, but the annual Winter Fuels Outlook had never discussed it prior to the 2012-13 heating season.

The Winter Fuels Outlook is put out by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), an independent statistical and analytical agency within the Department of Energy. Reports published by the agency are the premier source of energy information in the country and are used to guide economic policy and educate the public.

During today's press conference, EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski mentioned the "significant opportunity" for consumers to supplement their oil heat with wood pellets, as well as with electricity.

The inclusion of wood and pellets in the Winter Fuels Outlook came after over a year of discussions and meetings between the EIA and a coalition of wood and pellet groups. Senator Shaheen (D-NH) also raised the importance of pellets as an alternative to oil in New England with Administrator Sieminski.

According to the EIA, wood and pellets now produce more residential heat in the US than propane and nearly as much as oil. Wood produces 0.5 quadrillion Btu (quads) per year, propane 0.49 quads and oil 0.6.

EIA projects that average household expenditures for heating oil and natural gas will increase by 19 percent and 15 percent respectively over last heating season. The agency expects the country will experience colder temperatures compared to last year's mild winter, with oil and gas prices remaining virtually the same.

In terms of wood and pellets, the report said:
Wood consumption in homes has risen over the past 10 years, reversing a trend seen in the last two decades of the 20th century. In 2009, U.S. households consumed about 0.5 quadrillion Btu (quads) of wood. Household fuel oil consumption, by comparison, was only slightly higher at 0.6 quads. In homes across the United States, wood is most commonly used as a secondary source of heat and is second only to electricity as a supplemental heating fuel. Twenty percent of New England homes (1.1 million) used wood for space heating, water heating, or cooking in 2009 (EIA, Residential Energy Consumption Survey, 2009). This is nearly twice the national rate. Almost half of all rural households used wood in this area of the country. In contrast, only 12 percent of urban New England households used the fuel.
According to data previously published by the EIA, the average American household heating with wood consumes two cords of wood per year. This number includes homes that use wood or pellets as a primary, secondary or occasional heat source. The EIA also documents that consumption in rural areas is more than twice that of urban areas. The EIA estimates that 91% of homes that heat with wood use firewood, 8% use wood scrap and 6% use pellets.

Wood use also trends strongly with income level, according to EIA survey data, with households making $20,000 or less using more than twice the amount of wood as households making $120,000 or more. 

"The EIA's focus on wood and pellets is an important and timely step in the right direction," said John Ackerly, President of the Alliance for Green Heat, a non-profit consumer organization based in the DC area. "The next step is for states to start including the price of pellets in their monthly fuel price reports," Ackerly added.
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The Alliance for Green Heat promotes wood and pellet heat as a low-carbon, sustainable and affordable energy solution. The Alliance is a 510c3 non-profit organization based in Maryland.

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Visit this link to see a detailed comparison of fuel prices from 1995 to June 2012.

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Finland's Third Largest Coal User May Replace 40% of Coal With Biomass at Plants
By: Torsten Fagerholm

Helsingin Energia, Finland's third-biggest coal user, may replace as much as 40 percent of its coal with wood pellets at two plants in the next eight years to limit carbon emissions and boost renewable energy output.

Helsingin Energia, the country's biggest municipal utility, strives to find an "optimal fuel mix" for replacing 5 to 10 percent of coal use by co-firing 100,000 metric tons of wood pellets annually starting 2014, and possibly 40 percent by 2020, after tests which are taking place through April, it said today in an e-mailed statement.

At stake is the fuel mix at two of the company's main facilities, the 226-megawatt Hanasaari and 160-megawatt Salmisaari cogeneration plants in Helsinki, as the city owner strives to cut emissions by replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources at the utility which supplies power to 400,000 households...(to read the full article, please click here)

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2011 Census Shows Wood Heat Continues to Rise in U.S.

The number of American households using wood as a primary source of heat increased 1.72% this year, continuing a decade long growth spurt for the renewable heating fuel, according to the U.S. Census 2011 American Community Survey (ACS). The survey estimates that 2.11% of U.S. homes use wood-derived fuel as their primary heating source, compared to 2.08% in 2010.

While the growth spurt is continuing, it is also showing signs of slowing down. In the last six years, wood heat showed its greatest uptick in 2005-2006, growing 8.5% in one year. On average from 2000 to 2010, wood grew 4.5% each year, so a 1.7% increase last year may indicate a softening of the market.

The US Census does annual surveys based on sample populations which are then extrapolated to estimate trends in the entire country. The margin of error is higher during these annual surveys than during the decennial surveys where the Census tries to contact all households. The slower rate of rise in wood heat in 2010 may not be connected to the warm winter of 2011-2012 as that winter occurred mostly in 2012.

The ACS does not track secondary heat use, but it is likely that more Americans are using wood to supplement their main fuel as well. According to the 2009 EIA Renewable Energy Consumption Survey, 7.7% of American homes used wood as a supplemental source of heat and wood was the second most common secondary home heating fuel behind electricity. When more homes use wood or pellets as primary heat, the number of homes using it as a secondary heat source grows as well, as far as we know.

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Short term energy outlook highlights include:

Hurricane Sandy resulted in the loss of electric power to about 8.5 million customers on the East Coast and the shutdown of two refineries, major petroleum distribution terminals, and pipelines because of power outages and flooding. Progress reports on the status of electricity and liquid fuels supply are available in the U.S. Department of Energy's Hurricane Sandy Situation Reports.
  • EIA projects that the West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil price will average $89 per barrel in the fourth quarter of 2012, about $4 per barrel lower than in last month's Outlook, while the Brent crude oil price is expected to average about $1 per barrel less than in last month's forecast at about $110 per barrel over the same period. The projected WTI discount to Brent crude oil, which averaged $22 per barrel in October 2012, falls to an average of $11 per barrel in the fourth quarter of 2013. WTI crude oil is forecasted to average $88 per barrel in 2013, while the Brent crude oil forecast remains unchanged at $103 per barrel.
  • U.S. regular gasoline retail prices began October 2012 at $3.80 per gallon and fell to $3.49 per gallon on November 5, 2012. Projected U.S. regular gasoline retail prices average $3.56 per gallon during the fourth quarter of 2012. Hurricane Sandy, however, has contributed to higher wholesale gasoline prices on the East Coast, and the recovery schedule for affected refineries, pipelines, and distribution terminals contributes to uncertainty over the near-term price outlook. EIA expects regular gasoline retail prices, which averaged $3.53 per gallon in 2011, to average $3.64 per gallon in 2012 and $3.44 per gallon in 2013.
  • EIA expects U.S. total crude oil production to average 6.3 million barrels per day (bbl/d) in 2012, an increase of 0.7 million bbl/d from last year. Projected U.S. domestic crude oil production increases to 6.8 million bbl/d in 2013, the highest level of production since 1993.
  • Working natural gas inventories are at a record high level. As of October 26, 2012, working inventories totaled 3,908 billion cubic feet (Bcf), which is 56 Bcf greater than the previous record high of 3,852 Bcf on November 18, 2011. EIA expects the Henry Hub natural gas spot price, which averaged $4.00 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) in 2011, to average $2.77 per MMBtu in 2012 and $3.49 per MMBtu in 2013.

Read more about the latest short term energy outlook at the U.S. Energy Information Administration web site:
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