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Fired up about wood

KIM MARQUISsummit daily news

SUMMIT COUNTY – Summit County commissioners gave the go-ahead Tuesday for staff to pursue the idea of heating community buildings with wood chips.A proposal to develop a biomass project near Frisco would save money on natural gas bills and create a market for the area’s slash and thousands of dead trees, which would be chipped and burned for steam heat. The commissioners told county special projects manager Steve Hill to continue gathering information on the project and to prepare a request for proposals for construction.The project involves two separate plants built at a cost of $2.3 million at the County Commons and the new medical campus near Frisco. Steam heat from the first plant at the County Commons would be delivered through underground pipes to surrounding buildings such as the county offices and library, the Summit Stage bus barn and the emergency services building.A second plant would be built at the medical campus and would heat the hospital and combined Summit County Community Care Clinic and medical offices, which is set for groundbreaking in May.A 10 percent annual savings could be realized on heating bills, plus the project would eliminate dependence on natural gas, said Peter Oatman, a contractor for the Governor’s Office of Energy Management and Conservation.Perhaps more intriguing than the financial benefits, however, are the project’s ancillary benefits, Hill said. The two plants would create a local market for wood waste, divert trash from the landfill, promote energy independence and be a model for other communities to emulate, he said.Of the 312,000 square feet that would be heated with steam, 116,000 square feet is owned by St. Anthony Hospitals, which would also reap financial benefits of the cheaper fuel.Oatman said the capital costs could be paid by using the proposed energy savings to finance the plants’ construction. A performance contractor would run the plant, entering into an agreement with the county and the hospital owners to purchase the steam.

Oatman contributed to a project analysis that was presented to the commissioners last week. It indicates the project could save between $60,000 and $3 million on heat bills over a 20-year period.Commissioner Bob French questioned the wide range of possible savings.”That’s quite a, ‘It depends,'” French said.The difference would depend on how chips are collected, Hill said. If slash and beetle kill are diverted from the landfill, the cost of wood chips is much cheaper than if it’s culled from local forests.Hill said the county would not engage in forest thinning. Several contractors and private homeowners already thin property to remove pine beetle infested trees and protect from fire danger. And the U.S. Forest Service will launch a thinning project in the Upper Blue Basin this summer that will produce an estimated 2,000 tons of wood.”We’re looking at helping the private parties – to provide incentive – to do an activity they’re already doing anyway,” Hill said.If both biomass plants were built, the county would need to generate 5,000 tons of wood chips to run the systems.

More than 2,500 tons of wood waste was dumped in the landfill last year. The remaining fuel needs would come from surrounding forests.Commissioners French and Tom Long expressed concern over plant emissions and air quality. Hill was directed to hire a consultant to address their concerns.Kim Marquis can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 249, or at kmarquis@summitdaily.com.


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