At a time when the price of oil continues to skyrocket, alternative, renewable sources of energy can prove to be a vital source.

Jeff Nichols, president and CEO of Great American Pellets, discussed his business with members of the Palmerton Area Chamber of Commerce earlier this week.

Nichols spoke about the technology of his new plant, located at 2115 Little Gap Road, as well as the products it manufactures.

He said the alternative energy company, which just recently began operation, manufactures premium hardwood pellets for use in pellet stoves to provide heat for residential properties.

The company is expected to have 14 employees by the end of this month, said Nichols, who added that it will be a 24-hour operation.

"From the beginning of the project, we've had great support from the local comunity, Carbon County, and we're very happy to be here," Nichols said. "We did (what we could) to keep all the equipment that makes the noise inside the struture to make sure we can be as good a neighbor as we can possibly be."

The company uses only whole trees that are debarked and chipped to ensure that no leaves, bark or other foreign matter will enter the material stream, Nichols said.

He said the clean wood chips are stored inside to prevent absorption of excess moisture, as the chips are ground, dried and then fused under very high pressure into cylindrical pellets.

The finished pellets go through screeners to remove dust and then are packed in 40-pound bags for delivery to customers, Nichols said.

Peter Kern, president of the chamber, said Great American Pellets has been a welcome addition along Little Gap Road.

"We are very happy to have that type of development," Kern said. "I think it enhances the entire community; not just the immediate area."

The company held its ground-breaking ceremony in June, at which time Nichols said the company would create 33 jobs within the next three years.

Also at that time, he said the business would create 14 jobs initially, and added that the business has been designed to be both environmentally sustainable and economically profitable.

Nichols also said the company will do extensive renovations, including some demolition and additions, to the 31,000-square-foot blighted building in a brown-field zone.

He said at that time the project was consistent with the Keystone Principles for Growth, Investment & Resource Conservation because it will revitalize and reuse a blighted industrial property and utilize existing infrastructure. In addition, he said over 60 percent of the materials removed during the demolition will be recycled.

The manufacturing plant was designed by EcoTherm, Inc., one of the nation's leading designers and builders of wood pellet plants, which Nichols said was involved in the site selection and process design.

Nichols said EcoTherm suggested that the company capture all the dust from the manufacturing process, and use it to fuel the dryer instead of burning oil.

He said the project also received support from U.S. Rep. Paul Kanjorksi, Gov. Ed Rendell, state Sen. David Argall, Speaker of the State House of Representatives Keith McCall, the Carbon County Board of Commissioners, and the Lower Towamensing Township board of supervisors.