Wood pellets as alternate heat source saves greenhouse operation

Cory Hurley cory.hurley@tc.tc
Published on February 13, 2014
Bill and Terri Lynn Robbins of Robbins Enterprises in Deer Lake, takes questions from the audience after their presentation on wood pellett conversion- a producer experience, at the Greenhouse Conference in Corner Brook on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014.
Geraldine Brophy

When Bill and Terri Lynn Robbins received a three-month oil bill of about $13,500 during their first growing season after taking over their greenhouse operation in Deer Lake, they immediately thought they had made a career mistake.

About two years later, and after investing in wood pellet furnaces as alternate heat sources, nothing could be further from the truth about Robbins Enterprises - Gardens and Landscapes.

There were about 17 furnaces, a combination of oil and wood stoves, when they assumed ownership in October 2010. Only three passed a WET certification. In their first growing season in 2011, they purchased two oil furnaces.

“We decided we just can’t run a business like that,” Terri Lynn said. “We had to look at some other way to produce heat.”

Bill said labour, storage and pest issues associated with wood were an unattractive solution, so the wood pellet option seemed efficient. It proved to also provide a constant pressure, leading to a better growing environment.

They streamlined the operation, and now run six greenhouses. One of the wood pellet furnaces heats the potting room and store front, and the other the main greenhouse.

“Hands down, it was a great decision,” Terri Lynn said. “The savings alone. I can guarantee you, we did not use $13,000 worth of pellets in three months. Return on investment has been huge for us.”

The biggest downfall has been the availability of pellets. Originally, there were plans to have two or three operations in the province and the Robbins are a big proponent of supporting local industry. However, the suppliers did not materialize, and getting the pellets became a challenge.

Terri Lynn said they have been forced to buy from some of the big box store retailers, but that the pellets from off the island are not as good of quality than those produced here. She said it is expected Cottles Island Lumber Company will now be providing a sufficient supply — eliminating that challenge.

“It’s definitely a viable option,” Bill said.