Fuels for Schools - Montana
One example of an RC&D council project that involves the use of woody biomass for fuel is the Fuels for Schools program, which supports the use of wood as a heating fuel in public schools. It thereby helps schools reduce their heating costs while creating local jobs and increasing forest health. Under cooperative agreements with the US Forest Service, woody biomass is removed, fed through a wood chipper to create pieces of similar size, and shipped to schools. The schools then burn it in their boilers to heat their water and buildings.
The program had humble beginnings: following the wildfires in the summer of 2000, which burned over 350,000 acres and 70 structures in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana, a resident of Darby, Montana began to research ways to tie fire hazard reduction work with economic development in the valley. He discovered that waste wood was being used to heat a number of schools in the northeast and approached community leaders with the idea of using slash (tree limbs, tops and branches) from hazardous fuels reduction projects for heat in Darby’s schools. With the aid of a grant from the Economic Action Program and assistance from Bitter Root RC&D Council, USDA Forest Service Forest Products Laboratory, and the Biomass Energy Resource Center, a biomass boiler system was planned, designed, and installed in Darby and began heating their three schools in the fall of 2003.
That original partnership has been a great success. There are currently 14 biomass boilers operating throughout North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, and Nevada with two more in the design or construction phase. The program is now transitioning out of the role of a primary funder and is seeking to promote the wood to energy concept to the private sector as a dynamic revenue source.
Bitter Root RC&D Council provides citing feasibility studies in the early project stages and stack emission tests after installation to make certain that air quality requirements are met. It also owns and operates the national Fuels for Schools website (http://www.fuelsforschools.org). Along with its partner organizations, it hosts national conferences on Fuels for Schools and woody biomass options for local energy solutions. As part of this effort, the council has also studied various aspects of biomass heating: the efficiencies of different types of wood fuels, the manufacture and delivery of quality chips, new methods of converting underutilized wood fuels into harnessed energy, other alternatives such as wood char and wood ethanol, and ways to enhance the economic viability of projects.
For more information about Fuels for Schools in Montana, please see the Bitter Root Council website: http://www.bitterrootrcd.org/