'Irrational', 'panic': Wood pellet sales overheat, prices skyrocket

‘Irrational’, ‘panic’: Wood pellet sales overheat, prices skyrocket

At Bois Rosa, a firewood and pellet distribution company located about twenty kilometers from Lyon, the incessant ballet of cars, trunks open to collect the precious fuel pellets, led the director to limit direct sales. “When customers come from far away, we go up to 15 bags,” specifies the boss, Stéphane Rosa, who makes “99% of (his) sales” with individuals. His order book is full, with three months to go, compared to the usual two or three weeks.

“Panic” caused by war

The trend is general, some providers no longer answer the phone. A pre-recorded message requests to “submit (a) written request” through an accessible online form. However, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes is the first log-producing region in France, a mode of heating in full expansion. “It was the panic caused by the war in Ukraine that scared all the energies,” explains Eric Vial, general delegate of Propellet, the national association for heating with wood pellets –“pellet” in English–.

Current demand, two to six times higher than in 2021, according to him, is “inadequate with the need”, while consumption should only have increased by 12-13% this year according to Propellet projections. “It is irrational: people have to think and not panic”, continues the general delegate, denouncing an “overbuying” motivated by “the fear of missing out”. At the same time, with the combined increase in fuel, electricity and plastic used to wrap pellet pallets, prices have doubled. A 15 kilo bag now sells for about ten euros.

JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP

Pellet stoves or boilers

Despite the “overheating of the market”, the general delegate of Propellet wants to be reassuring: “If consumers stop rushing with the pellet and only buy the minimum, demand will drop and naturally the price will drop. In the meantime, we have to deal with the restrictions. Stéphane Chicot uses “one or two tons” of pellets for heating every winter. And for him, content with “10 bags is a bit of a joke.” Pierre Liotard, 66, came to Bois Rosa to pick up some bags for his daughter who lives in Burgundy, where, according to him, the pellets “cannot be found” until “the cold arrives”.

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Energy: why the price of wood pellets skyrockets

Energy: why the price of wood pellets skyrockets

These are difficult times for the owners of wood stoves and boilers. Prices have almost tripled and the shelves are empty. Explanations with the Durepaire company, which manufactures the precious fuel in Verdille, in Charente

According to Propellet, in 2021, 1.5 million French households were equipped with pellet stoves or boilers. These small cylinders of compressed softwood sawdust, just a few centimeters long, are considered renewable energy by the European Union, despite opposition from environmentalists. Sales of household appliances, stoves and pellet boilers increased by 43.2% and 119.6% respectively in France last year according to the Renewable Energies Observatory, an increase driven by various purchase subsidies that can amount to several thousands of euros.

JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP

Online scams are on the rise

Stoves, intended mainly for auxiliary heating, represent more than 90% of pellet appliances, with larger boilers connected to the hot water network being less frequent. If national production allows to cover “around 85% of the needs” with French wood, the increase in demand forces the industry to import “at exorbitant prices”, mainly from Belgium, according to the Propellet representative. Like other distributors, Stéphane Rosa is reluctant to import his pellets.

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