Our State has been blessed with an abundance of natural resources, and certainly one of the richest has been our wealth of forests, which has not only enriched our scenic wonders, but has provided a livelihood to generations of hard working West Virginians through timbering.
Now fast forward to today's constant quest for greater energy efficiency and American industry's continued efforts to develop new products aimed to ease the impact of energy bills on the consumer's pocketbook, all the while, improving companies' bottom lines. At the center of these economic crossroads, you will find a healthy and growing manufacturing sector in our own State, the wood pellets industry to heat homes and buildings.
The process producing the wood pellets is straightforward. By collecting sawdust and chips generated from lumber companies, millwork facilities, and wood flooring plants, West Virginia companies are producing a hardwood pellet that can be used as a highly efficient energy fuel. The manufacturing process dries and compresses what was once mainly considered wood waste and extrudes it through metal dies to mold pellets that look much like rabbit food.
The renewable fuel is not only economical, it is produced locally, here in West Virginia. When burned in pellet-approved appliances such as furnaces, boilers, and freestanding or fireplace inserted stoves, the pellets produce heat with very little ash, making heating appliances easy to clean.
At a presentation during the December 2013 West Virginia Governor's Energy Summit, the Pellet Fuels Institute (PFI) pointed out the environmental and energy efficiencies of wood pellets. According to the PFI, for every ton of pellets used versus fuel oil, carbon dioxide emissions are reduced by 60% or more. Already, the Institute points out, about 1.5 million homes in our country are using wood pellets as a heating fuel. Schools and other government buildings as well as private sector buildings use wood pellets as heating fuel. Overall, the PFI predicts wood pellet demand will grow from 2.7 million tons this year to 4.0 in 2018.
And according to one estimate, with current retail pricing in West Virginia around $230/ton, pellets are more economical per BTU than electricity, propane, or #2 fuel oil. To compare energy costs in your area and to calculate savings, you can visit the Pellet Fuel Institute's calculator at www.pelletheat.org.
I have been working with West Virginia's pellet companies to share with my colleagues in the Congress the benefits of the pellet fuel industry to our nation's energy portfolio. Currently, other renewable energy sources, like wind, geothermal and solar, have the advantage of federal consumer tax credits, but thermal biomass, which includes wood pellet fuel, does not.
Congress needs to examine this issue closely, not only to help support our Nation's march toward energy independence, but to encourage growth in an American industry that is making wise use or our renewable natural resources, providing jobs for our families and reducing home energy use costs. Evening the playing field for all renewable energy products makes the Nation more competitive throughout other sectors of our economy as those sectors also grow American jobs by successfully competing in the global market place.
As our foliage turns to its fall coat of so many brilliant and wondrous colors, our attention turns to those fall and winter heating bills. It is reassuring to know that our forested lands not only warm our spirits and sense of beauty, but that they can play a greater role in warming our homes and buildings as well.