Beetle-killed trees may heat county buildings in Eagle County as well |

Beetle-killed trees may heat county buildings in Eagle County as well

SCOTT N. MILLEReagle county correspondent

EAGLE – First, the numbers need to line up the right way. If those numbers line up properly, Eagle County could join Summit County in looking at biomass energy, which uses wood from local forests to heat public buildings.Whether those numbers will line up, though, is still an open question, but it’s one Eagle County officials are now trying to answer. There’s a biomass plant running in Boulder County, and one is in the late planning stages in Summit County. So far, though, wood-burning heat has so far been limited to mostly government buildings.The first question to be answered is how much beetle-killed timber will be harvested from local forests. The second is how much that timber will cost. Neither question will be answered until the U.S. Forest Service signs contracts for logging in local forests, which may happen this year.The price of wood, or chips, is the first number in the line that leads to what’s now called “biomass” technology.At the moment, the important number is 40, as in $40 per ton of whatever is being burned. At that level, a wood heating system for the county administration building would pay for itself in a decade or so, Eagle County Administrator Bruce Baumgartner said.The next important number is about 50, the number of years a steady supply of wood needs to be available to make a wood heating system cost effective. A building the size of the administration building in Eagle would require about 2,000 tons of wood per year to heat.There might be that much beetle-killed wood in Eagle County, but the question then becomes how much of it can be cut and hauled.”There’s a lot in roadless areas or wilderness that’s very difficult or cost-prohibitive to get to,” said county planner Eric Lovgren, who’s spearheading the research into wood-burning technology. If those and a host of other numbers line up, Baumgartner said the county could start pursuing a wood-burning heating system – probably for the county administration building – within a year or two.Like Eagle County, Summit County has thousands of acres of dead trees. The amount of timber available has been figured into that county’s plans for a biomass system to heat about 300,000 square feet of county-owned buildings on the south side of Frisco, said county planner Steve Hill. If that system is built, and uses about 5,000 tons of dead trees per year, that will be a fraction of a percent per year, Hill said.”Supply’s not really a concern,” Hill said.

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