BETHEL: A new program in Oxford County is offering rebates to help homeowners switch to wood pellet boilers for heat, which can cut fuel bills up to 50 percent and keeps energy dollars circulating locally and supporting jobs in the regional economy.

Switching to wood pellets made from wood grown and processed in the Northern Forest keeps 100 percent of the money spent on this alternative fuel in the local and regional economy. Conversely, nearly 80 cents of every dollar spent on imported heating oil leaves the local economy.

“The rebates are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Due to increasing oil and propane prices we expect demand for the program to be high and we are encouraging prospective participants to contact us as soon as possible,” said Les Otten, co-founder and CEO of Bethel-based Maine Energy Systems, which manufactures wood-pellet heating systems offered through this program.

Maine Energy Systems is collaborating with the nonprofit Northern Forest Center to offer the Oxford County Affordable Heat Program as an off-shoot of the very successful Model Neighborhood Project that helped install 40 residential pellet boilers in Berlin, N.H.

Phase I of the Oxford County Affordable Heat Program calls for 25 wood pellet boiler installations with rebates of $2,700 to Oxford County property owners who transition from oil or propane heating systems to fully-automatic wood pellet boilers. Maine residents have the opportunity to combine the Affordable Heat Program rebate with the statewide rebate of $5,000 made available through Efficiency Maine Trust’s Home Energy Savings Program (HESP).

“In Berlin, N.H., homeowners have saved more than $90,000 since the first pellet boiler was installed at the end of 2011,” said Maura Adams, program director at the Northern Forest Center. “And what they’re spending on heating fuel is staying in the regional economy. The Oxford County program is one more way to build demand for wood pellets, which in turn creates a market for low-grade wood. Landowners need markets for their low-grade wood to help make forestry viable and give them an incentive to maintain their forests.”

“We’ll be collecting performance data on the boilers as part of the project,” said Dutch Dresser, director of Maine Energy Systems. “The system is a virtually seamless replacement for traditional oil- or propane-based central heating systems. Homeowners empty a specially designed ash container only three or four times a year through a clean quick-release system.”

Other benefits of using wood pellets for heating include a net reduction in carbon dioxide avoided over time, and opportunities to stabilize and increase employment in forest-based businesses.

Residents interested in participating in the program should contact Skip Bennett at Maine Energy Systems by email [email protected] by phone 207-824-6749.