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

Would a wood chipper boost the economy?


May 9, 2019 | View PDF

As the Haines Borough explores the option of heating public buildings using wood-burning biomass boilers, instead of the diesel fuel that has historically been used, a new question has arisen: can a wood chipper meant to create fuel for the biomass project boost the Haines economy without it? The Haines Economic Development Corporation (HEDC) is trying to find an answer through a wood chipper feasibility study.

Separate from the $1 million grant the borough received from the Alaska Energy Agency, in August 2016 it received about $100,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service to purchase a wood chipper. Once purchased, the borough would have several months to find a local business to lease it to, and if the biomass project was approved, borough staffer Krista Kielsmeier thinks buying the chipper would boost the local economy.

“It’s just how long would people wait,” she said, noting that the lengthy process of approving the biomass project on the assembly level may make business owners hesitate to bid on operations.

HEDC wonders if there is a wood chip market separate from the municipal effort.

“The chipper could be used for more than just fuel,” said the executive director of HEDC Margaret Friedenauer. “It could be used for composting, using chipper to clear land instead of burning it. A few months ago, there were some complaints about someone brushing their property. If the option was there to chip that brush instead, and use that for composting, is that a nice alternative to have in the community? Is there enough demand for chippings?” she wondered.

HEDC board members voted unanimously on Friday for Friedenauer to investigate. Shehe doesn’t think the mid-June deadline will be a problem.

“A lot of questions have already been answered, so it’s a question of pulling it all together, making sure numbers are up to date,” she said.

One of her main resources is the biomass energy design report that Wisewood Energy corporation submitted to the borough at the end of April. Wisewood found that $70,000 to $90,000 of the annual estimated biomass operating costs came from purchasing wood fuel material, fuel handling and delivery. This estimate came with a major caveat: if these services could be provided by local contractors with the help of a wood chipper, “approximately 73 to 77 percent of the total operating costs could be retained in the local economy,” wrote Wisewood.

“If someone could make this chipper work, it would be great,” said Kielsmeier.

She said that many factors could suddenly make energy costs soar in Haines—like if something happened to the cable that connects Haines to the Kasidaya and Goat Lake hdyropower projects, or if the economy changed.

“I guess there’s just the overall uncertainty that this project looks more attractive or less attractive year by year,” she said.

The USDA has given the borough $92,136 to buy a chipper, and the Alaska Energy Agency has given the borough additional funding. The total grant funding for the chipper is $112,000. For that price, a wood chipper can typically grind 19 in. diameter logs.


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