The Chilkoot Indian Association has been awarded a $35,000 grant from the U.S. Forest Service to design a community wood pellet mill.
Dave Berry, administrator of the Haines-based tribe, said the money will help pay for the final design of a plant to make pellets. “We are one step closer to starting. So many steps are involved and this is the last step. Knock on wood.”
The grant was announced Friday by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, at a Ketchikan press conference.
Berry said the tribe already has spent “several hundred thousand” toward a plant, including a feasibility study completed in December 2011. The tribe envisions a plant that would employ four to six workers and produce at least 2,500 tons of pellets a year, using a combination of local trees and ones from Canada at a ratio not yet determined.
The study will come up with a design for such a plant, and its estimated cost, Berry said. He said the tribe would produce pellets for a market including northern Lynn Canal and possibly communities farther south.
The tribe already is heating apartment buildings in its Chilkoot Estates subdivision with pellets. The Haines Borough is heating the Senior Center with pellets partly as a trial on whether to put pellet boilers in other municipal buildings.
“Our intention is to sell to local people at a price they can afford. We want to help our local people and economy,” Berry said.
Part of the tribe’s incentive in building such a plant is a recent conversion to pellet heat by some large federal buildings in Juneau and Southeast, including Coast Guard stations.
Berry said the tribe had a location chosen for the mill but the landowner backed out. “We have to start hitting the pavement again. We don’t want to impact anybody. We’re looking for an area nice and quiet where no one knows we’re there, which is getting hard to find in this area.”
Berry said ideally heat used to make pellets could also be used to dry the wood the pellets are made from.
A Forest Service press release said the plant initially would produce pellets to meet demand for local home heating.
“The economics of a pellet mill in northern Southeast Alaska are compelling,” the Forest Service said. “Pellets barged in from the Lower 48 and British Columbia are considerably more cost effective than heating with oil, yet nearly half of the cost of those imported pellets is attributable to shipping. By establishing their own, local wood-fuel refinery, Haines should see a significant reduction in the cost of pellets by eliminating the shipping component, with the added benefit of the creation of local jobs and economic activity from retaining energy money in the community,” the press release said.