This Bioenergy Day, We Check in with School’s New Wood-Pellet Heating System

Happy Bioenergy Day!

Today, we’re celebrating a significant accomplishment of bioenergy at a Washington school district. It’s been about a year since a new wood pellet boiler was installed at a Northport school in northeast Washington, a project in collaboration with the Washington state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the state Department of Commerce, and the Washington State University (WSU) Energy Program.

Bioenergy Day is a celebration of the ecological, social, and economic benefits of using organically-sourced energy.

What is Bioenergy?

Bioenergy is an efficient, sustainable form of energy that uses organic material to generate heating, cooling, or electricity. Commonly used materials include the byproducts of forest thinning, such as smaller trees, and agricultural and urban food waste.

The Northport boiler gets its juice from wood pellets, a much more sustainable option than the previously installed diesel-fueled heating system. These pellets are often made from byproducts of timber harvests or forest restoration activities – a convenient, sustainable use for organic material that might otherwise go unused.

The pellets are renewable and clean-burning, created in pellet-mills around the United States. These mills create jobs in heavily forested areas, often serving rural communities in need of sustainable jobs. Northport’s wood pellets come from Hauser, Idaho, but School District Superintendent Don Baribault has heard some talk within the community about hopes for local sourcing in the future.

It’s estimated that 1 million residences or businesses use wood pellets as a heating source, according to the Pellet Fuels Institute.

The First Year Report

First and foremost, Baribault says the wood pellet boiler has given some much needed warmth to the school, especially since the old system had begun to fail. Northport was in search of something that would be reliable and long lasting.

“Based on screening schools across Washington, Northport appeared among the most suitable sites for converting from oil heat to densified biomass,” said David Van Holde, senior energy engineer with the WSU Energy Program. “More importantly, the engagement and support by the superintendent and school board throughout the process ensured the project’s success.”

(Left to right) Superintendent of Northport School District Don Baribault, David Van Holde, senior energy engineer with the Washington State University Energy Program, commerce senior energy policy specialist Peter Moulton, Department of Commerce Director Lisa Brown, Anne Nelson with Department of Natural Resources and Andrew Haden, president of Wisewood Energy gather in front of the Northport wood pellet boiler.

Last year, Baribault said the boiler went through approximately 50 tons of wood pellets. According to the Energy Information Association, one ton of pellets is the energy equivalent to 2.8 barrels of distillate home heating oil.

Although the audit hasn’t been fully completed, Baribault said he believes the pellet boiler will save at least $10,000 a year.

The school’s campus serves roughly 200 students, many of whom thought the project was pretty “cool,” Baribault said, especially the youngest of the group who saw the crane installing the boiler and asked if they were getting a rocket ship.

To learn more about the Northport boiler, check out this blog from last year. You can learn more about Bioenergy Day here.