Harney Community Energy - district heating in Oregon's high desert

When a local school in Burns, Oregon needed to replace an aging boiler, community leaders discovered that a biomass district heating system would dramatically lower their energy costs and help keep local forests healthy. Biomass energy is a perfect fit for their rural community.

Last October we held the ribbon cutting celebration for Harney Community Energy (HCE), an innovative, first-of-its kind in the region, biomass district heating system in Burns Oregon. The system is providing heat to multiple community institutions on one common hot water loop using a single biomass boiler. Currently it's heating Slater Elementary School, the Harney County Courthouse, County Sheriff's Office and Jail, and a mental healthcare facility; but the system is poised to expand to provide heat to other adjacent buildings, such as two local churches, school district offices, the district hospital, and even the downtown core.

HCE is unique for a few reasons: technology, ownership, and financing. First, the community insisted on using material that could be sourced from the local area, so selecting the appropriate biomass technology was core to the project. Several key components of the technology were designed specifically to be capable of handling "hog fuel," a minimally processed wood chip that retains a high moisture content, in order to unlock the most inexpensive and widely available wood fuel for the system.

Second, it was important that the community retain local ownership of the system, while also getting a project that proved out as operating successfully. In this case, Wisewood Energy secured financing for project construction, was responsible for construction, and now owns the system for its first year of operations. Wisewood Energy will ensure the system is functioning as promised, after which the community will take over ownership under the newly formed High Desert Biomass Cooperative. As a result, the community will benefit from a new institutional vehicle that is focused on long-term local economic development.

Third, the project benefitted from partners that provided flexible construction financing. Wisewood Energy secured a low interest, short-term Program Related Interest loan from Meyer Memorial Trust, which was supported with a credit enhancement from the US Endowment for Forestry and Communities and an equity investment from the High Desert Biomass Cooperative. Combined, these partners demonstrated a commitment to local, appropriately designed solutions   for rural Oregon and set an example for others in the future.

We're excited to replicate this model in other communities across the US West!

Check out the short video of the project funded by the Oregon Department of Forestry and Sustainable Northwest!