From Maine to Alaska, thousands of people are staying warm affordably using wood pellet boilers that have been safely and competently installed by technicians trained here in Maine. Yet Maine is the only jurisdiction that we’ve encountered that regulates the installation of pellet boilers by requiring technicians to have a “solid fuel” license.

This licensure was established scores of years, perhaps a century, ago to regulate huge primitive coal and wood boilers. It has nothing to do with today’s modern wood pellet technology. It’s akin to the difference between an icebox and a refrigerator. This misclassification has caused unnecessary hurdles for these advanced boilers to enter and become common in the market.

For six years, we have worked with the Maine Fuel Board on this to no avail. I am surprised, disappointed, angered and appalled at the recent vote of the fuel board to not continue or expand to other manufacturers the pilot licensing installation program that Maine Energy Systems has had in place for the last two years. No evidence of injury or technical issue has arisen.

The reason to adopt the pilot program was two-fold. First, the fuel board needed time to create, in conjunction with the pellet industry, reasonable installation standards. Second, it was acknowledged that the previous four years of work, or lack thereof, on this subject had produced nothing tangible and something needed to be done. During the last two years, we have worked tirelessly to provide information and multiple examples that we are in command of our products.

Our company has now trained more than 200 Maine oil technicians in a craft they cannot practice. The board’s unfortunate decision is responsible for an addition to Maine’s unemployment rolls.

There is no instance of any pellet boiler-related installation issue by a licensed oil technician trained by us that has been unresolved or problematic. There has been a cascade of petty and incorrect flags raised by the fuel board that have been corrected or proven inaccurate. Indeed, many of the supposed problems were committed by oil technicians whose old oil installations we were replacing. Additionally, we endured a constant underground effort by state employees to discredit the program.

Six years have passed since we first brought the need to create pellet boiler installation rules to the board’s attention. It’s highly reasonable it should have been able to write the applicable rules for our industry that it wishes to govern.

The six years encompassed countless presentations to and meetings with the fuel board. The lack of action proves that the board will neither deal with changing technology nor accommodate it. Those members of the fuel board who have contributed to this lack of action should step aside and allow others to work with the pellet fuel industry to immediately adopt industry-specific rules that would allow technicians expedited licensure. This lack of reasonable effort displays nothing other than contempt for an emerging Maine industry and an abandonment of the Mainers they represent.

Two final points: First, after all this time, not one question on the solid fuel test deals with modern pellet boilers; and second, the board was forced into executive session by the attorney general’s office to discuss the issue before voting.

Such sessions are generally reserved for employment and wage discussions. What they had to say should have been on the public record. Through these actions, the board and our attorney general are making it clear that an unseen influence is at work here. This vote is a clear vote against emerging technology and a vote to limit the advancement of clean, affordable, renewable and locally produced fuel and heating systems for Maine homes and businesses.

The fuel board should schedule an immediate meeting and stand ready to tell the public why, after six years, it has accomplished nothing, as well as what was so confidential that the assistant attorney general would not allow it to be heard publicly.

Leslie B. Otten is an owner of Maine Energy Systems in Bethel.

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