At six public schools across the Prince of Wales Island in Alaska, the installation of modern wood heating systems has fueled a surge of energy savings, student entrepreneurship and, surprisingly, improved nutrition.
Now that renewable energies are cost competitive with fossil fuels in many markets around the world, they are starting to be implemented as mainstream sources of energy in countries like Sweden and Costa Rica. More locally, many communities and Tribal Nations are also working on achieving energy independence through renewables. In pursuing its goal of being a true sovereign Nation, the Spokane Tribe of Indians of Washington is emerging as an innovative leader in attaining self-sufficiency.
Richard DeWolf’s Portland-based company, Versatile Wood Products, specializes in the restoration and remodel of historical doors, windows and cabinetry. In the course of a single year, that work produces a significant amount of wood waste and sawdust, to the tune of about 100 total tons per year.
DeWolf wanted to find a sustainable way to get rid of those excess materials. So he teamed up with another Portland firm, Wisewood Energy, to design and install a biomass boiler system that takes what would have been dumped in a landfill and turns it into fuel to heat Versatile Wood Products’ 40,000-square-foot facility in North Portland.
Photo credit: Dan Bihn
BURNS, Ore. - Harney County-based High Desert Biomass Co-op and regional business lender Craft3 have closed on a $1.1 million loan to allow for long-term, community ownership of an innovative, biomass district heating system in Burns.
At best, the road to finding an efficient and economic means of heating the Plumas County Health and Human Services Center has been rocky. In 2006, the facility was rebuilt to consolidate and centralize operations, and with the new design, the existing heating solution was replaced with a ground-source geothermal system. Though appealing in theory, the system—undersized and unable to keep up with the buildings’ heat load—has been very expensive to operate. A decade later, it’s close to failing, and the building’s heating and cooling costs are significant. That will soon be changing, however, as a new solution will be in place by spring—a biomass-fueled, combined-heat-and-power system, a project that has been in the making for the past couple of years.
It's no surprise that fresh produce can be hard to come by in Alaska, where the growing season is short and high energy prices make commercial food operations challenging. A few innovative communities are changing that trend by building greenhouses at schools and heating them with locally sourced woody biomass - creating a compelling chain of local energy generation, fresh food production, and hands-on education. The State recently released a handbook that outlines how to replicate this model, from project conception all the way through understanding biomass options, funding greenhouse operations, and incorporating a suite of educational opportunities. Of course there are also tons of great photos and inspiring case studies.
This April Wisewood Energy and the Quinault Indian Nation kicked off a new design project for a biomass district heating facility in Taholah, Washington. Taholah is situated at the confluence of the Pacific Ocean and the Quinault River, an area rich in forest, river, and ocean resources. However, this area is also experiencing an increasing risk of sea level rise, coastal erosion, and intense storm events, and as such the community of Taholah has decided to relocate to higher grounds. The biomass district heating facility will provide key infrastructure for the relocated community buildings, and will be designed to use hog fuel wood chips sourced from the local area. Scroll down to p.9 for an excerpt on Wisewood's recent site visit to Taholah.
Harney Community Energy is an innovative, first-of-its-kind project in North America. Wisewood Energy has been working with Harney County School District No. 3 and Harney County since 2012 to develop a district energy system that will deliver heat to multiple key community facilities using woody biomass sourced from the surrounding region. The project is widely expected to represent a replicable model for community-scaled economic development that increases energy independence, advances biomass utilization, and supports forest health.
In 2014 it was brought to the District’s attention that perhaps the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act funds could be used to upgrade the Center’s infrastructure. In partnership with Clearwater County Economic Development and Wisewood, a biomass energy design-build firm based out of Portland, the District began investigating the potential.
Not long ago, the Blue Mountain Hospital in John Day was consuming over 32,000 gallons of costly heating oil each year. Off the beaten path 150 miles east of Bend, the rural community didn't have the option to use cheaper sources of fuel such as natural gas. That is, until recently.