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Reader Question: Why has the price of fuel for log-burners doubled in France?

The cost for one tonne of the wood pellets used to power wood-burners or stoves has doubled since the beginning of 2021.

Reader Question: Why has the price of fuel for log-burners doubled in France?
This picture taken on September 8, 2022 in Melesse, western France, shows wood pellets. (Photo by LOIC VENANCE / AFP)

Question: We have a poêle in our home in south west France and we have noticed that the price of the wood pellets has rocked in recent months – is this an issue all over France? And why?

Although French consumers are largely shielded from the rocketing prices of gas and electricity seen in many European countries, there is one heating method that has not escaped rising costs – wood-burners.

Many French homes have either open fires or log-burners known as poêles, and the most efficient thing to burn in these are specially created wood pellets known as either pellets or granulés de bois

How much do they cost?

On September 20th, Eric Vial, the director of Propellet, the national association of wood pellet heating professionals, told Actu France that the price has almost doubled since last summer.

“Today, a tonne can be bought for about €600. At the beginning of 2021, it would be €300, €350”, Vial told Actu France on September 20th.

The pellets are usually sold in either DIY stories, specialist outlets or hypermarkets and of course the retail prices vary, but in most cases stores have had no choice but to pass the cost increases on to customers.

Why the increase?

Wood pellets have increased in price for several reasons, namely increased demand and higher production costs.

First, demand for wood pellets increased significantly this year. It also came earlier than it normally does, as people began preparing for winter earlier. Many customers placed order before the start of production for 2022.

“The supply is restricted compared to the demand,” explained a spokesperson for Propellet to La Depeche.

The increased demand amid concerns of energy shortages this winter came alongside a general trend of more installations of pellet-burners in France, as installations are supported by the government in an effort to reduce pollution and dependence on fossil fuels. Households can benefit from State aids and subsidies to install new or refurbish old heating systems.

READ MORE: Heating homes: What are the rules on fires and log burners in France?

Between 2020 and 2021, sales of pellet stoves have increased by 41 percent and sales of pellet boilers by 120 percent.

Stores across the country have been forced to limit sales with demand outpacing supply. One such shop is the Weldom store in Fleurance, near Toulouse, who found themselves out of stock in late September. Store owners told La Depeche that they have “a lot of demand at the moment” and if the re-stock delivery “does not arrive, it will be a loss for the store.”

Prices are also rising is due to increased production costs.

According to Propellet, production expenses first increased during the pandemic when plastic and metal elements needed for the creation of pellets were more difficult to find. Currently, the issue facing the industry is the price of electricity. 

Vial explained Actu France that “To manufacture pellets, you need electricity. Because of what is happening in Ukraine, [the price of electricity] has increased a lot.”

According to Christian Lejeune, the manager of the sawmill in Grand-Est, several companies that supply wood pellets are more directly impacted by the war in Ukraine. “They imported their supplies from Ukraine or Belarus,” explained Lejeune to Republicain Lorrain.

Unlike electricity and gas, wood pellets have not fallen under a government price shield to protect consumers from price increases related to inflation. 

READ MORE: LATEST: France to set maximum 15 percent gas and electricity price rises for 2023

Some local politicians, such as the MP for the Ardennes area, Pierre Cordier, have begun pushing for wood pellets to be covered by a price shield, as well as for action to be taken to protect against possible shortages. 

The Minister of Environment, Agnès Pannier-Runacher, responded to Cordier’s requests on September 13th, saying that the government has “taken measures to promote the production of pellet and not be in a supply impasse.” 

The details of such measures were not yet communicated as of September 26th, but according to the Prime Minister’s press conference detailing the extension of the energy shield for electricity and gas, households that use wood-burners will also benefit from the cheque energie, depending on their level of income.

Is there concern about a shortage?

Propellet told La Depeche that “we are not yet in a situation of shortage” instead they are concerned about “temporary strains.”

The association of wood pellet heating professionals expects that the situation will have “smoothed over in the coming months” but this will depend largely on the weather. A colder winter would increase demand.

In the event of a harsh winter, France might need to import wood pellets from other countries, which could prove problematic, as the situation for many other countries is “similar” to France in that there is increased consumer interest in purchasing wood pellets, according to Vial. 

The sector hopes to double its production capacity by 2028, and to distribute an additional one million tonnes between 2021 and 2024. 

On September 22nd, TotalEnergies inaugurated a new pellet bagging and bulk centre.

The plant, which was set up in partnership with the organisation Sea Invest, is intended to boost supplies by increasing the site’s processing capacity from 25,000 metric tons to 50,000 metric tons within three years. Pellets produced will be distributed in a 200 km area around Rouen.

What about firewood?

Consumers have also found themselves paying more for firewood due to a rise in demand – prices have gone up 20 percent since June, according to BFMTV.

When asked about the rising price of wood, the prime minister said that her administration would “look carefully at why wood has a high cost” adding that she believes it “can be produced on our territory.”

“We have forests in France so it will also be interesting to look at whether some people are not taking advantage of the crisis to increase prices,” said Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne.

Member comments

  1. Any update on the pellet situation, still no stock in any bricos and supermarkets in our area. We changed from an oil boiler to pellet under the government scheme to help the climate and now have NO heating

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France to end ‘regulated tariff’ options for gas in June

Households who benefit from regulated tariff gas plans will have to switch to a market plan before the end of June, according to France's ministry of economy.

France to end 'regulated tariff' options for gas in June

Some 2.4 million households in France will have to change their gas plans before June 30th, as part of France’s Energy and Climate Act.

The change will impact those who benefit from a tarif réglementé (TRV) – or regulated tariff – for their gas plan. Essentially, this is a gas supply contract that has a regulated rate set once a year by the French government, based on a recommendation from the energy regulation commission.

The premise is that as the TRV price goes up, so does the bill, and vice versa. If you are unsure as to whether you have a TRV plan and you have not received a letter, you can also consult your gas bill or contact your supplier to verify. 

These types of plans are only offered by ‘traditional’ suppliers, such as Engie and about 20 other local distribution companies in France. If you have a gas plan like this, then you should receive a letter from your supplier informing you that you will need to change your plan to a market offer.

France’s ministry of economy said that households and coproprietés (buildings divided into separately owned apartments), do not have to worry about having to cancel the contract yourself, as it will be done automatically. Additionally there will not be any gas cuts or the need to change your metre (compteur). You will, however, be advised to pick a new plan. If you do not do so, you will be automatically switched onto the generic plan offered by your gas supplier. 

READ MORE: PROPERTY: What you need to know about ‘copropriété’ fees in France

Those who benefit from regulated rates for electricity, such as the EDF ‘Blue Rate’, do not have to worry about changing their plans – this only applies to gas.

Does this impact the gas price shield in place in France?

This is not related to the existing freeze on gas price rises in France, which was capped to 15 percent at the beginning of 2023. 

However, France’s minister of economy did say in April that the price freeze for gas will be done away with sometime “this year” but did not offer any precise dates. 

Gas prices in France were frozen in 2021, initially as an aid with the rising cost of living – in the spring of 2022 the freeze was extended and electricity prices were also frozen, in order to protect French households from the spiralling energy prices seen across Europe after Russian’s invasion of Ukraine.

Domestic gas and electricity price rises were capped at four percent throughout 2022, and then allowed to rise by a maximum of 15 percent at the start of 2023.

How do I decide on a new plan?

The French government has created a website to compare plans in your area – you can find it HERE. Simply put in your postal code, as well as some information regarding your typical gas consumption or monthly bill, to find recommended results for your area. 

You should choose your new offer before the deadline of June 30th, according to the French ministry of economy. 

Keep in mind, if you choose a new plan that does not suit you, you can still cancel the plan free of charge. To set up the new plan, you will need the reference number attached to your last gas bill.

Why is this change happening?

However, France is doing away with regulated tariffs in order bring French law in line with European law. Both small and large businesses have already switched away from regulated tariffs, and now the rule will apply to individuals and co-proprietés.