Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966


Wood pellets warm senior center; savings anticipated


Workers and lunch customers at the Haines Senior Center say the 4,800-square-foot building is warmer now that baseboard registers have been installed and a wood pellet boiler was fired up about two weeks ago.

“Definitely, the office feels warmer,” said assistant site manager Kristy Legassie.

The Haines Borough is now watching to see whether maintenance and operation costs of the pellet burner make it less expensive, over the long run, than oil heat.

About $95,000 from the Alaska Legislature and the borough’s Capital Improvements Program (CIP) fund have been spent on improvements to the center to date. Remaining work includes replacing about 16 single-pane windows, weather-stripping doors and adding “blow-in” insulation to existing fiberglass attic insulation.

Money for weatherization may come from deferred maintenance funds or from grant sources, said borough facilities director Carlos Jimenez. “There’s tons of energy grant money out there, which would be my preference.”

The borough recently purchased 8.5 tons of pellets at a cost of $3,060, a volume that should last until April, said assistant to the borough manager Darsie Culbeck. Annual heating bills have averaged about $5,500 for the building during the past four years, said Ron Jackson of Haines Senior Citizen Center, Inc.

“It’s running just as we anticipated,” Culbeck said. Burning at full bore, or at 2,200 degrees, the exhaust stack is cool enough for a person to place a hand on, Culbeck said. “To a layman’s way of thinking, that’s pretty efficient.”

Pellets could save the borough $104,000 or more over a 25-year span, Culbeck said.

The pellet burner is a pilot project to see if the borough should put the boilers in other buildings it owns. Costs to date include $16,000 for the OkoFEN PES32 boiler, $7,000 for a 13-ton-capacity pellet silo, $6,000 for boiler installation, and $6,500 for silo construction, including a cement pad.

The $36,000 total compares to $22,000 for purchase and installation of an oil-burning boiler, Culbeck said.

The cost of pellet delivery is extra. They first batch arrived in a boom truck from Juneau but borough workers may load the silo in the future, depending on cost.

Culbeck said the borough would look at monthly consumption by the pellet burner and try to compare it to oil heat. But an accurate comparison may be difficult, as weatherization measures also are anticipated to reduce heating costs.

“(Weatherization work) is going to throw the control off, but you’ve still got a more efficient boiler. For the same amount of BTUs, pellets are cheaper,” than oil, Jimenez said. Said Culbeck: “There are many variables. It’s possible our only comparables are the cost of BTUs and boiler efficiency.”

About $60,000 additionally has been spent on building plumbing and other work, including installing baseboard heat and a programmable thermostat that can be adjusted from off-site.

The center’s former heating system involved heated pipes below the floor that radiated warmth through floor registers.

For now, a wood stove in the building will serve as backup if there are problems with the pellet system, Culbeck said. Borough staff will be able to do routine maintenance on the boiler, he said. The only maintenance required at this point is emptying an ash bucket every two weeks, he said.

“In theory, we shouldn’t have to touch a pellet until the (supply) truck comes back in April,” Culbeck said.

To date, senior center heating and weatherization improvements have been funded by $30,000 from the borough capital improvement project fund and a $65,000 grant to Southeast Senior Services from the Alaska Legislature.