The Northwest gets about 2.4 percent of its energy from biomass. Mills often burn wood waste for steam to run equipment and generate electricity. Wood also heats rural schools and hospitals. Here are a few of the projects.
The University of Idaho saves about $2 million per year by using wood for heat.
Wood chips are burned in boilers. The resulting steam is piped to buildings, providing heat and hot water for 75 percent of the Moscow campus.
The steam plant – which dates to the 1920s – ran on coal and natural gas before it was converted to a wood burner in 1986.
During the winter, the steam plant consumes about eight truckloads of cedar chips per day. Cedar is one of the keys to the plant’s success, said Mike Lyngholm, the steam plant’s manager. The aromatic chips aren’t used for paper production, so he doesn’t have to compete against pulp mills for them.
The chips come from trees grown within a 100-mile radius of Moscow, keeping energy dollars close to home.
“The money goes to local businesses,” Lyngholm said, “rather than a West Coast pipeline company and a Canadian gas producer.”
Clearwater Paper Corp. operates one of the Inland Northwest’s largest biomass plants.
A wood-fired boiler at the Lewiston pulp mill generates about 50 megawatts of electricity, which the company sells to Avista Corp. Steam from the boiler also runs equipment at the mill.
The No. 4 boiler burns bark and dirty sawdust that can’t be used for paper production, said Matt Van Vleet, company spokesman.
“We have the capacity to generate 65 megawatts of electricity,” he said. “We would, if we had enough inexpensive wood waste.”
Idaho’s Garden Valley School District opted to install a wood boiler in a new, rural K-12 school building.
The old school had electric heat and high utility bills, said David Naccarato, a manager for McKinstry, the Seattle-based firm that worked on the project. With wood heat, the bills should drop to $60,000 annually – a 50 percent savings.
Naccarato said wood boilers make sense in rural areas, where they replace high-cost propane, heating oil or electric heat.
“People like the idea that they’re using a resource that’s clean and renewable,” he said.