Two Alaska communities are receiving a federal grant to jumpstart renewable energy projects. Haines and the village of Hydaburg were selected from 77 applicants nationwide.
Over the past 10 years, about 36 biomass systems have been installed in Alaska. The term sounds pretty technical, but it’s used to describe a prehistoric way to stay warm: a wood burning fire.
Dan Parrent is a program manager at the U.S. Forest Service. He said the Wood Innovation Grants were awarded to projects that maximize energy efficiency.
“You know, you’re not talking about some smoky old, wood stove here,” Parrent said. “We’re talking about high tech equipment.”
Typically, the wood comes from second growth or byproducts. It even helps mitigate the threat of wildfire.
In the village of Hydaburg, the grant is funding the heat system for the school, which also includes a greenhouse. Cordwood will keep the buildings warm, displacing over 24,000 gallons of heating fuel a year.
The total cost is $900,000, with the bulk of the funding coming from the Alaska Energy Authority.
In the past decade, Parrent said he’s seen more cities consider biomass as a viable option.
“You know, several years ago, oil prices were through the roof, and that’s when a lot of these projects got started and got funded,” Parrent said.
Although the price of oil has dropped, that interest has remained.
Darsie Culbeck is a biomass consultant to the Haines Borough.
“We are tied on this very fragile supply line to Seattle for our food and our fuel,” Culbeck said.
A $1.5 million biomass system is in the works that could heat the borough’s schools, some public facilities and a swimming pool with wood chips. Culbeck said the wood chips could come from the Haines State Forest and stimulate the local economy.
On top of that, he thinks the savings could come back to help the borough in a big way.
“Budget crisis happens and we lose our art teacher and can we can keep that art teacher because we saved enough money on fuel?” Culbeck said. “That would be awesome.”
In 2010, the village of Tok fired up its biomass boiler and three years later they were saving enough money to add a music teacher and school counselor.
Hydaburg and Haines’ biomass systems are expected to be completed next year.