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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow Enterprise School heating system saves district big money

Enterprise School heating system saves district big money

The biomass boiler at the Enterprise School saved the district $81,900 in fuel costs last year, and this coming heating season the savings could be even greater.

According to Ken Kunkle of Enterprise School, the biomass boiler came online in December 2008 at the peak of oil prices. Over the years, many of the kinks in the system have been worked out — primarily accessing the right kind of fuel and an adequate local supply.

At the time, it was the only system of its kind in the state, Kunkle said.

Matt King of Community Solutions, Inc. said the boiler’s design requires the highest grade, lowest moisture, homogenous-sized fuel with no contaminants like dirt or bark. However, no one in this region can produce that quality of chip. With extra maintenance and chemically treating the boiler, Kunkle got it running well enough that it heated the school 92 percent of last year’s heating season.

When the boiler was installed, the oil-burning furnace was left intact to run as a backup in case of an interruption with the chip supply. It also runs in the late spring and early fall when heat is only needed a few hours a day.

Kunkle said the wood-fired boiler must be hand-lit and takes a while to warm up, thus the use of the oil furnace on days when the school just needs a couple hours of heat.

The school’s biggest supplier has become Wallowa’s Integrated Biomass Resources with Union County’s MC Ranch as its primary
backup.

Rex Christenson is the foreman at the ranch.

“They have enough timber to selectively harvest and a mobile chipper,” King said. “It’s nice to have a backup for the school. Now both Integrated Biomass and Rex are able to provide a consistent supply of fuel. While its not the quality the boiler we would like to run, it can operate very well with some additional operator input.”

Kunkle said now that the boiler is working well and the chip supply has been ironed out, he would like to see more boilers installed. 

He said getting the boiler to work well is all about the fuel and credits Integrated Biomass’ President David Schmidt for getting a good supply of chips for the school.

“It’s 99 percent about the fuel,” Kunkle said. “It needs to be compatible with the feed system.”

The biomass system was fitted to tap into the existing steam heater, Kunkle said. The chips are fed into a furnace that heats water, making steam, and the pressure pushes the steam through pipes into the school.

King said the Northeastern U.S. is having similar issues with using expensive fossil fuels and having overstocked forests. “They are trying to connect the density problem with the forest and are ramping up pellet production,” King said.

He said the wood-fired furnaces used in the Northeast are on a much smaller scale, but people are embracing the idea and starting to use outdoor biomass furnaces for their homes.

“Wood-fired furnaces have gotten big on the East Coast where people have storage room for six to 12 months of pellets. They operate efficiently and are generally good systems using hot water heat, in-floor radiant heat and hydronic, baseboard heaters,” King said.

But there is a huge price difference between chips and pellets. Community Solutions wants to continue to develop boilers that run on chips.

King said Community Solutions will complete a study by the end of November for the Pine Eagle School District in Halfway. “It will use chips and that project will come in at a much better price with a much better BTU rate,” King said.

He said the Pine Eagle system could be on line as soon as the 2014 heating season.

 
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