The Haines Borough Assembly has authorized staff to continue pursuing the use of wood pellet heat in borough facilities, and recently approved a $33,000 contract for design of three biomass pellet boilers.
The boilers would be installed in the Chilkat Center, Haines School and sewage treatment plant.
Executive assistant to the manager Darsie Culbeck said the borough decided to use money remaining from an Alaska Energy Authority (AEA) grant to design the boilers. The AEA grant, originally intended for a central wood heating feasibility study, was amended so the borough could use the excess grant money for design.
Mayor Stephanie Scott said design documents are critical to getting state organizations to fund projects. “What we’ve learned in this world of getting funds from elsewhere is the more your projects are engineered and designed, the more favorably funders look on your project.”
With a feasibility study and bid-ready design documents in hand, the borough will be waiting to hear from the AEA this spring when it determines how to distribute its Renewable Energy Fund grants.
Culbeck submitted a construction grant application to the AEA’s Renewable Energy Fund in September, citing a $1.37 million project cost to convert 10 borough facilities to wood pellet heating. Whether the borough will receive any of the $1.37 million will be decided in the spring.
It’s hard to guess whether the wood pellet “changeover” will receive funding or not, Culbeck said. Mayor Scott did point out that the AEA, which conducted a study on heating sources in Southeast Alaska, tends to favor and endorse biomass projects for this part of the state.
Another part of the wood pellet puzzle is possible construction of a pellet production plant in Haines, an idea the Chilkoot Indian Association has been pursuing for some time.
CIA’s Scott Hansen said he issued a request for proposals in mid-November to engineer a pellet plant that can produce 2,500 tons of pellets a year.
Hansen said CIA submitted the request once previously and received no proposals. “I’m not really in the woody biomass industry so I relied on the wrong sources to post it,” he said.
After going back to the drawing board, CIA reissued the RFP, which closes Dec. 6.
With an RFP in hand, CIA will be able to turn around and ask for construction bids, Hansen said. CIA intends to pay for construction costs through energy grants.
The plant is designed to operate for six months a year. CIA has been looking at several locations around town, including the end of Sawmill Creek Road and Major Road.
Although a local pellet plant isn’t necessary to make switching borough facilities to pellet heat financially viable, it wouldn’t hurt, Culbeck said. Switching to pellets automatically saves money because pellets are cheaper than diesel – even when they’re imported – but if the pellets are produced locally, the money would stay and circulate in the community longer.
“That’s why the pellet mill makes so much sense: Yes, we’ll save money by just burning pellets, but we’ll really be better if we have a local source to keep the money in town,” Culbeck said.
The borough and CIA are exploring ways to partner up in their pursuit of biomass energy, he said.