COOS BAY, Ore.—Loggers and forest managers in Coos County say they see a lot of energy generation potential in waste wood, or biomass, on the Southern Oregon coast.
"We have a lot of material," D&H Logging Inc. owner Gary Haga said. "It's all going to waste right now."
Haga told The World newspaper in Coos Bay that school districts or the county could feed wood waste chipped and dried, or packed into pellets, into converted boilers and save lots of money.
Estimates are that a school district could save well over $100,000 in one year, as the tiny Enterprise School District has done in northeast Oregon.
Supporters of biomass energy say converting boilers could also keep money in the local economy and provide more stable fuel costs because it is supplied locally, unlike fuel such as heating oil, subject to wide price fluctuations.
"Locally we can have more of a say in that." said John Pine, Oregon Department of Forestry's biomass specialist for the Southern Oregon region. "If you just pay for oil, it goes to someone far, far away."
Dwindling timber industry jobs would get a boost as well. Local logging outfits or companies devoted to slash pickup would hire more people.
"It gets back to the community working," Pine said. "The people who work and live work in your town are the ones who benefit from it."
Given the amount of logging in Coos County, finding enough material in the region shouldn't be a challenge, said Bill Delimont, a consultant with TSS Consulting, a renewable energy, natural resource management, and financial consulting firm out of Rancho Cordova, Calif.
Delimont is working with the Coquille Indian Tribe on a feasibility study on building a biomass-fuel powered plant.
But there are challenges.
Low-value slash piles accumulate at logging operations a few miles off a highway or miles and miles up steep and winding roads. If it is a long distance from a processing site, it may not be worth retrieving.
"It doesn't pay it's way out of the forest," said Marcus Kauffman, the project manager for the University of Oregon's Resource Innovations.
For now, operators are collecting slash at flatter, easy-access landings and experimenting with collection methods, such as hauling out trailers behind logging trucks or bringing chippers to the sites.
Collection sites shouldn't be more than 35 to 50 miles away from where it is processed into usable pellets, chips or pucks.
Biomass industry experts are hoping the combination of improving technology and proving wood waste has a better use will make it more feasible.
"What we are going for is the forest biomass that doesn't have a home and giving it higher value." Kauffman said.
"Burn it in a controlled environment where you capture 80 percent of the energy and use it to lower people's heating bills."
Supporters are focusing on smaller markets, such as small school districts or hospitals. The fuel demand of such systems fits with the current supply.
Information from: The World, http://www.theworldlink.com