Catch up with PFI in this issue of the Pellet Wire!

September 2, 2022

From the Director's Desk: 

Buckle Up, Reading the EIA Tea Leaves, PFI Board to Gather in Miami in October

Buckle Up

I try to avoid hyperbole. I do. Lately, however, I’ve found myself saying things that certainly sound a lot like it. For instance, over the course of the last six weeks, I’ve said repeatedly in conversations with our members that the heating season of 2022-23 is shaping up to be the most interesting of my 12-13 years of observing and writing about the wood pellet industry. As the calendar flips to September and early autumn, I’m even more convinced of that fact now than I was six weeks ago. 

Don’t take it from me. Instead, read the collection of stories I’ve aggregated in the Industry News section of this issue of the Pellet Wire. They all (save one) tell the same story. Heating fuel inventories are tight, both locally and abroad. The supply hole created by sanctions against Russian fuel of all types (including wood pellets) is disrupting pricing and availability in Europe already and phones are ringing stateside from buyers looking for pellet volumes from basically everyone that owns a mill. 

I did find one more tempered news story that quotes Charlie Summers with the Maine Energy Marketers' Association. In the story, Charlie asserts that Mainers needn’t worry about oil retailers running out of heating oil inventory but he does recommend planning ahead. The remainder of the stories linked in this issue of the Pellet Wire is all more dour, and more urgent.   

Last week the PFI issued a press release urging wood pellet consumers to plan ahead and lock in some inventory now, if for no other reason than to lock some of the winter’s tonnage at today’s prices. Inflationary prices on heating fuels of all types seem all but guaranteed at this point. I’m confident wood pellets will deliver significant discounts per BTU to our fossil fuel competitors, but wood pellets will not be immune to inflationary pressures this season and the EIA data from May already supports that assertion. Urging consumers to act now gives our industry some runway in answering the demand call we all expect is coming later in the season. 

Reading the EIA Tea Leaves

During our annual conversation with Connor Murphy at the EIA (via Zoom) at this year’s PFI Annual Conference, I wondered aloud during our conversation if the impact of foreign demand for U.S. produced heating pellets would show up in the Monthly Densified Biomass Report and how it might show up. The report, after all, has been organized to report on two distinct and separate markets operating, largely, independently of one another. The report aggregates some data (operating facilities, residues, feedstocks) into one number, while other data (production, inventory, sales) are reported by market. What isn’t clear is where heating pellet export numbers, when they occur, will show up. Connor, if you are reading this expect a call from me about guidance to producers regarding the reporting of sales of wood heating pellets in an export capacity. 

Let’s dig into the May data and see what we might glean from it. Total U.S. production (premium) was strong (142,681 tons) but not a May record (164,964 in 2019). Through May U.S. production comes in at 662,888 tons, the lowest January-May output since 2018. In that way, the impact of foreign demand on production decisions isn’t supported by the data. Producers may have been hearing about a European shortfall and phones may have been ringing but the conversations producers were having weren’t motivating them to give their plants more throttle input (that metaphor is for you John Utter). Producers hew far more tightly to actual orders than potential orders when making production decisions and sales numbers over that same period tell the story. Marketplace uptake for heating pellets from January – May was dismal this year (504,667 tons). For comparison U.S. total sales volume January – May since 2018:   

          2021 – 617,567 tons
          2020 -  758,121 tons

          2019 – 752,601 tons
          2018 – 708,803 tons 

Before closing the book entirely on the May data in the Monthly Densified Biomass Report and what evidence it may have regarding overseas demand I’ll draw attention to two items. First, the U.S. wholesale average is now $205.29. In May of 2021, the U.S. wholesale average for heating pellets was $181.63. Some context here is prudent. Yes, the price increase is a 13% step forward in a year, but it isn’t that much of a departure from the increase from May of 2020 to May of 2021 ($165.31 to $181.63 or 9.8%). This will be a number to watch as the season unfolds and I wouldn’t even hazard a guess at where it might end up come February or March. Next, I’m seeing an inventory depletion in the East in May that seems out of place. The region saw inventories deplete by 12,000 tons in May, which is atypical. Looking as far back as 2016 never before has the May inventory position ended the month lower than it started. That anomaly jumped out of my own data roll up and I suspect it reflects a producer taking an opportunity to move some inventory overseas.  

Industrial pellet production came in at 729,843 tons, a big number but not without precedent. The sector produced more in March (779,786 tons). Monthly utility grade wood pellet production averaged 626,000 tons last year. In the first five months of 2022, monthly utility-grade wood pellet production is averaging just over 700,000 tons. In the past three months, the average is over 740,000 tons. I’d be surprised if utility volume dips below 725,000 again this year. I suspect a run of near-record exports is likely and we may see the first 800,000 ton number as soon as the June data is published. It seems plausible at least, if not likely that this sudden step forward in outbound volume has been catalyzed by the need to backfill the missing 2 million tons of Russian and Belarussian volume.

PFI Board to Gather in Miami in October 

This fall the PFI Board of Directors will meet on Tuesday, October 4th in Miami. We’re hosting the board meeting there to take advantage of the U.S. Industrial Pellet Association conference being hosted there, making it a snap for board members that want to attend that conference a breeze. 

With all of the activity in the export space and many of our members fielding calls from interested overseas pellet buyers, hosting our board meeting in conjunction with this event makes great sense. 

If you are interested in joining our board in Miami, please contact me

—Tim Portz
 Executive Director

Save the Date 2023

PFI 2022 Annual Conference


Photo of the Week:

Photo: O’Malley Lumber

Congressional Boots on the Ground: PFI Board Member Matt O’Malley (O’Malley Wood Pellets) explains his operation to Congressman Rob Wittman (Virginia) on a recent facility tour. Thank you to Matt and to the entire O’Malley team for taking the time to explain your business and our industry to your elected representatives. (L to R: Matt O’Malley, Congressman Rob Wittman) 

 Send Us Your Photos! Help us build a collection of photos of our members, their pellet mills, and products! Send images to Tim Portz at tim@pelletheat.

Industry News

EIA Monthly Densified Biomass Report (with May data)

As of May 2022, the monthly data collection included 80 operating manufacturers of densified biomass fuel. These manufacturers had a total production capacity of 13.27 million tons per year and collectively had an equivalent of 2,455 full-time employees.

Read Article

Wood pellet producers urge consumers to stock up on fuel now

Wood pellet manufacturers across the country are urging the owners of wood pellet heating appliances to secure their pellet fuel early this year as the global pellet market works to fill a significant supply hole created by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Read Article

UK proposal aims to ensure adequate wood pellet supplies for RHI

The U.K. government on Aug. 22 opened a public consultation on its proposal to temporarily suspend certain fuel quality requirements for Renewable Heat Incentive participants using wood pellets in response to supply impacts resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The proposed suspension would be in place for 12 months.

Read Article

PFI Cheers Extension of Tax Credit for Wood Heating Appliances

The Pellet Fuels Institute celebrated today the inclusion of an extension of the residential tax credit for qualifying wood and wood pellet heating appliances in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, signed into law today by President Joe Biden. The bill includes $430 billion in investments in health care and clean energy priorities, including a 10-year extension of the residential tax credit on qualifying wood and wood pellet appliances. 

Read Article

Diesel Heating Fuel Supplies Dangerously Low

Diesel and heating oil supplies are dangerously low in the Northeast compared to the recent average, prompting concerns from officials as winter approaches. 

Read Article

Local Expert Says Mainers Should Not Have to Worry About Dwindling Fuel Supplies  

Diesel and heating oil supplies in the Northeast are more than 50 percent below the recent average, according to the Department of Energy. Levels are down for multiple reasons, including the war in Ukraine, and the Department of Energy says it's the worst in the Northeast, where fuel demand is the highest during the winter.

 Read Article

Home Heating Oil Prices Set to Skyrocket in NH this Winter  

Granite State homeowners prepare for a rise in oil prices before the end of 2022. Oil prices are around $6 per gallon, which will increase by the end of the year to $8 or $9 per gallon. More than 40% of New Hampshire homes rely on fuel oil as their main heat source.

Read Article

Low Fuel Inventories Cause Special Concern in US Northeast

Diesel and heating oil supplies in the Northeast are more than 50% below the recent average, raising concerns that an extreme weather event could cause supply disruptions, federal officials said.

Read Article

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