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

March 15, 2019 

In This Week's Pellet Wire:

From the Director’s Desk—A Call for Increased Visibility

This morning the Pellet Fuels Institute will welcome nearly 100 attendees of the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Expo to Breakfast & Biomass, a forum where those impacted by the pellet industry but not directly involved in it can catch up on what is happening in the space. I learned last year while building the agenda for the first Breakfast & Biomass of my tenure as the Executive Director that the event began as a vehicle to share the previous year’s pellet appliance sales numbers with interested producers and specialty hearth retailers. For a roomful of people who make a solid fuel product consumed by those pellet burning appliances were enthusiastically received. In many ways, annual pellet appliance sales numbers offer the only reliable way to understand the trajectory of market growth (or decline) the sector is experiencing. Unfortunately, annual pellet appliance sales numbers are no longer a hallmark of the Breakfast & Biomass offering and the reasons for this are not altogether clear. To be fair, sharing marketplace intelligence very quickly puts appliance manufacturers in an uncomfortable place. The specialty hearth marketplace is competitive, and manufacturers are reluctant to tip their hands to their year-over-year successes or shortfalls. For years I participated in an annualized data effort to confirm wood pellet, ethanol and biomass power production in the United States and Canada for Biomass Magazine and Ethanol Producer Magazine. Despite those brands being widely recognizable in their respective industry’s and our teams asking our contacts to simply confirm their facility’s installed capacity, the inquiries were often met with suspicion and caution. I remember also when the EIA launched its Monthly Densified Biomass Report and I wondered aloud how successful they would be at getting producers to share monthly sales and inventory numbers. (We’re happy to have Connor Murphy, who spearheads this effort and report, join us at our annual conference this summer in Hershey, Pennsylvania).

What I’ve found so interesting about these various data capture and reporting efforts is that while no one is in a big hurry to share vital operational data, nearly everyone eagerly consumes it. In more than one instance in the past month, despite the three-month lag time in the data, I’ve had members cite data in the EIA Monthly Densified Biomass Report in our conversations about the state of the industry, tight inventories and the honest to goodness winter we’re having. Wood pellet production is a tricky business. Producers face the challenge of forecasting sales to satisfy heating needs where there is no way of knowing how severe or prolonged the winter may be. A member producer shared with me that heating degree days in their marketplace were up 50% when compared to the 2017-18 season. It is hard to imagine anyone would make a production bet on a number like that even if it was hypothesized in an annual planning meeting.

We will never have a line of sight on what each winter will bring. That uncertainty comes with the business. But for me, this underscores the importance of knowing in great detail what we can know, pellet appliance sales included. Over the coming weeks and months I’ll be working with colleagues in the broader specialty hearth industry to attempt to figure out a way forward that provides our members with some increased visibility regarding pellet appliance sales and use that is sensitive to the need for manufacturers and retailers to protect their proprietary marketplace information. As this heating season winds down, it is no secret that pellet inventories got tight in many pellet burning regions. Everyone can agree that consumers struggling to find pellets in the middle of a late February cold snap is not likely to generate the positive “word of mouth” press this industry relies upon. And while I certainly wouldn’t assert that having access to year-over-year pellet appliance sales numbers by region (wouldn’t that be something) would magically make inventory challenges go away, I can’t see how it would hurt.

—Tim Portz
Executive Director

Photo of the Week—Georgia Biomass

We're building a collection of photos of our members, their pellets mills and products. Send them to Carrie Annand at 
[email protected]. This week’s featured photo features Michael Cobb (right) performing training with Tripper Cardwell (left) at Georgia Biomass’ Waycross facility.

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Upcoming Industry Events

March 14–16, 2019: HPBA Expo 2019

June 57, 2019: 2019 PFI Annual Conference 

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Pellet Fuels Institute

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