The Washington State Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 5709 on March 7 for a pilot program to demonstrate the feasibility of using densified biomass (wood pellets) to heat public schools.
The program, also known as “fuels for schools,” would convert one school on each side of the state to a wood pellet heating system with a study initiated by Washington State University to reveal cost and energy savings potential.
Dan Henry, of 5G3 Consulting of Kettle Falls and co-creator of the Quadra-Fire pellet stove now produced at Hearth and Home Technologies in Colville, has worked for many years to promote pellets as a renewable energy in Washington. He said the Senate’s approval of this bill is a big step in the right direction.
According to SB 5709, “the legislature finds, among other things, that clean burning renewable densified biomass leads the country to energy independence, stimulates the economy, reduces carbon emissions, promotes healthy forests and is complimentary to other biofuel industries.” The bill is co-sponsored by District 7 Senator John Smith.
It still has to go through the House of Representatives and be signed by Governor Jay Inslee before it is law.
On March 7, Henry, along with the Northwest, Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association, made a presentation to over 30 people at Chewelah Public Library on the benefits of wood pellet fuel as a renewable energy opportunity for Washington State. The presentation was co-sponsored by the Chewelah United Church of Christ, Chewelah Chamber of Commerce, and Libraries of Stevens County.
According to WSU Energy Program, “densified biomass is a solid biofuel made of compressed sawdust and chipped wood that has a consistent quality, low moisture content, high energy density and homogenous size and shape. Densification increases the energy density of biomass by approximately 10 to 15 percent so more heat is produced per unit of pellets burned than if the same amount of raw wood was burned.” (from SB 5709)
As a renewable energy, the WSU study from 2012 reported that timber from state lands affected by pine beetles can provide a constant near-term supply of feedstock for the wood pellet industry. Also, Biomass harvested from unhealthy forests can restore forest health while providing an economic benefit.
As the demand for paper and pulp continues to decrease, lumber suppliers are looking for another industry and Washington should take advantage of that opportunity with pellet production.
The Northwest Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association reports that biomass has been marked as a renewable energy in Asia, China, Japan and Europe. In 2012, the U.S. exported 2 million tons of pellets to other countries and Henry said exporting to other countries creates a great economic impact in Washington.
The HPBA also reports that pellet fuel is 36 percent lower cost than electric heat, 40 percent less costly than fuel oil, and 45 percent less costly than propane. The organization estimates that there are approximately 50,000 residences and businesses currently heating with pellets in Washington, and over one million in the U.S.
Henry said it takes about three to four tons of pellets per year to heat the average home and the average cost of pellets in this area is about $200 a ton.
He said the only thing less expensive is natural gas but that is not available to everyone.
Henry uses the example of the energy savings that Harney County Hospital saw when converting to a wood-pellet heating system in 2007. Harney County Hospital, located in Burns, Ore. saw payback in less than three years and have since been able to use the profit from cost savings to fund its MRI machine. The Oregon State government also said there is no need to regulate the system, which meets all state air quality standards, as there is low moisture content and less carbon emissions than traditional fossil fuels.
Henry also discussed with the Chewelah audience how promoting pellet fuel has a possibility of creating jobs and stimulating the local economy.
Many were interested in how they could bring a pellet mill to the local area and Henry outlined the criteria and needs for being able to make that successful.
He said that the Northwest Alloys plant would be a good place for a pellet mill and a similar sized mill in Pennsylvania created 40 jobs for its community. He said it would be smart to start small and grow bigger as the demand grows. Sawmills already in operation could also have the capacity.
Henry said if there was a larger building such as a school using a pellet heating system, than they could have bulk production and that would make it a more efficient operation.
Pellet mills are also clean and the properly run mills do not cause respiratory issues for employees, Henry said.
By Kellie Trudeau, The Independent Staff