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Dec. 3, 2022

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Clark County pellet stove owners urged to get orders in soon as pellet shortage looms

War in Ukraine, other factors affect supply

By , Columbian staff writer
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General manager Brian Taylor holds a handful of wood pellets at Morton's Stoves, Pools, and Spas in Vancouver. Wood pellet producers in the U.S. are encouraging pellet stove owners to get their pellets early this year due to expected shortages.
General manager Brian Taylor holds a handful of wood pellets at Morton's Stoves, Pools, and Spas in Vancouver. Wood pellet producers in the U.S. are encouraging pellet stove owners to get their pellets early this year due to expected shortages. (Elayna Yussen for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Wood pellet producers in the U.S. are encouraging pellet stove owners to get their pellets early this year.

“This is primarily due to the significant supply hole created by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as the high prices of oil and natural gas, which will have many consumers switching to pellet heating,” reads a press release from the Pellet Fuels Institute. The institute is a trade association that represents American wood pellet manufacturers.

The press release went on to mention that Russia contributed 2 million tons of wood pellets to the global market in 2020. This made the country the second largest producer of wood pellets globally, second to American manufacturers. But sanctions and restrictions from the war in Ukraine mean there will be a large gap in the market.

“Right now, supply chains are fine if you’ve done your orders,” said Brian Taylor, general manager at Morton’s Stoves, Pools and Spas, 8318 East Mill Plain Blvd. in Vancouver.

Morton’s generally handles pre-orders six months in advance.

Demand for heating in the United States begins in the Northeast in early fall before moving through the Midwest and finally back to the West.

“We expect there to be some bumps in the road,” said Taylor. “But we’ve been in this location and in business for 30 years, so we’ve made all the mistakes twice and tried to learn from them.”

So, the store began selling pre-orders for its fall pellets in August.

Washington, like the rest of the Pacific Northwest, has an abundance of timber on the ground and the state allows consumers into state forests to pick up fallen wood each year. That could mean that wood-burning stoves can have a zero-cost fuel.

“I don’t think those are ever going to go away,” said Taylor, though he does think the wood stoves’ burning standards will continue to increase over time.

Still, pellet stoves are overtaking wood stoves in popularity, Taylor said. He chalks that up partly to generational growth — 65-year-olds are less inclined to be chopping wood and waiting for it to age before being able to burn it.

“We’d like to go out, grab a bag, throw it on the stove, hit a switch and have fire,” said Taylor.

Pellet stoves need to be serviced annually, and fuel consumption should be pre-planned, so there’s no waiting for weeks on new bags of pellets to be shipped to the store in the middle of winter when demand is highest.

The Pellet Fuels Institute expects demand for wood pellets to also rise because of the increasing cost of other heating fuels like propane, natural gas and oil, reaching up to 47 percent more expensive than wood pellets in some regions of the U.S.

If pellet stove owners haven’t already bought their pellets for fall, there still is time to do that, but it will cost more.

“Demand is starting to peak in the Northeast, out in the mid-Atlantic and out on the Canadian border,” Taylor said, noting that shipping costs are also increasing.

The sooner, the better, he added.

“It’s not a call to alarm, but it’s just a call to be prepared.”

Wood burning is the third most popular method of heating homes in Clark County, according to the American Community Survey. Nearly 4,000 homes are heated in such a way.

Taylor says how many pellets each home needs varies based upon the climate. But he says most people will go through about a ton and a half to two tons of wood pellets per season, which lasts from about November to April.

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