Skip Maine state header navigation
Fuels for Schools
Fuels for Schools is an initiative designed to help public schools and other public facilities reduce their heating costs while increasing forest health. The program promotes the use of biomass heating systems (biomass boilers) that can burn waste wood from hazardous fuels reduction projects.
federally funded initiative was targeted originally to the Intermountain West,
but its roots lie in
The western program
partners include the USDA Forest Service, Regions 1 and 4, five State Foresters
The program has four elements:
§ Funding/conducting Engineering Assessments;
§ Granting dollars for conversions;
§ Identifying existing financial resources; and,
§ Providing Technical Assistance.
§ 21 schools with completed Engineering Assessments; 15-20 schools were to be assessed in 2004.
The Future (after 2008):
§ Private Sector takes over;
§ Expertise is available;
§ Technology is commonplace;
§ Market competition keeps it strong.
§ The new biomass burner, which runs at 100 HP, replaced two steam operated boilers and one hot water boiler which ran at 265 HP, which will save the community $30,000 to $40,000 a year in heating energy consumption.
§ In addition, this project stands out because it hooks into two separate buildings and ties into three existing boiler systems. The existing boilers function as backup during extreme cold weather or during extremely mild weather.
Diagram from Darby Pilot Project
Biomass Energy Resource Center (BERC), based in
Project manager for the Darby, MT school project;
Preliminary study of the technical aspects of using biomass to replace fuel oil and generate electricity to support Middlebury College’s Carbon Reduction Initiative; and,
Revision of “Wood-Chip Heating Systems: A Guide for Institutional and Commercial Biomass Installations” under contract to the USDA Forest Service. This publication synthesizes a lot of information about developing and implementing a program, including economic analysis.
and other partners have helped develop wood chip heat in
BERC seems to be a central location for expertise from project design to implementation, and seems well connected with a wide variety of funding sources, including USDA and DOE.
Several resources have been developed to assist schools and other institutions interested in installing biomass heating systems. These resources include access to technical assistance, system design, economic analysis, and project reports. A listing of some of these resources follows (some overlap and/or cross-reference each other):
§ Mount Wachusett Community College Renewable Energy (www.mwcc.edu/renewable)
§ Fuels for Schools (www.fuelsforschools.org/)
Preliminary assessment www.biomasscenter.org/reports/middlebury-biomass-chp.html
Fuel assessment www.familyforests.org/research/documents/MCBiomassReport.pdf
Next Steps for
The information base exists. The technology exists. The tools to analyze investments in the technology exist. Multiple service providers exist. The following actions would help move institutional biomass heating into the mainstream:
§ Assessment of Need – list of schools / facilities. An outreach initiative to make institutions aware of the opportunities and multiple sources of information and technical assistance.
o Input - $20,000,
o Outputs –
§ 1. A list of interested school systems and potential sites.
o Partners –
Rigorous economic analysis. The
current analysis tools seem to work fine; however, assumptions about biomass
supply prices vs. other fuels need serious examination in light of competition
for the same wood among biomass energy plants, pulp mills, firewood processors,
biorefineries, and others. The State of
o Input - $15,000,
o Output - A clear understanding of the conditions which make conversion a viable option.
o Partners – State Planning Office, USDA Forest Service, Department of Energy, Energy North East,
§ Ecological impact analysis. Many parties interested in biomass appear to assume that there is and will continue to be an abundant supply that can be readily removed from the woods without consequences. This assumption needs more rigorous testing. An emerging body of science continues to demonstrate the important ecological functions of every part of a tree, including leaf litter, small branches, fallen logs, and snags. Further, many landowners now either use cut-to-length harvesting machines that drop branches and tops in front of the machine or backhaul slash from the landing on whole-tree operations, in both instances to protect the soil. With so much attention paid to Best Management Practices (BMP’s), the “competition” between soil protection and biomass burning needs closer examination. Is this a good idea only if the fiber comes from sustainably managed forests?
o Input $15,000
o Output - A report on the biological impacts of different harvesting régimes.
o Partners –
Fiber supply assessment. We
need a much more robust modeling effort to understand better the possible
future pathways in
o Input $250,000,
o Output – A clearer understanding of the relationships which factor into the inventory process.
o Partners –
§ New technology options. This sector is changing weekly, Beyond burning biomass chips in a boiler, do opportunities exist for biofuels, gasification, and pellets (among others)? Someone needs to stay on top of this emerging industry. We need to be able to provide the best available information.
o Inputs – $80,000
o Output Governor level Coordination / Collaboration with stakeholders
§ Revolving loans. The initial capital investment seems to be the largest financial barrier. The institutions that have reported on their investment payoff seem satisfied with the longer-term financial payoff; however, making the investment to get the system installed seems problematic. Establishing a revolving loan fund may be the best thing the state can do to energize activity. According to the BERC, a medium size school which burns an average of 40,000 gallons of fuel per year can expect to pay as much as $700,000 in conversion costs.
o Input - $1,200,000
o Output –
§ Technical Assistance / cost share
§ Demonstration Projects
Department of Energy
Economic Development Administration
Department of Education
USDA Forest Service
Topic: Fuels for Schools (and other public buildings)
The Forest Service Fuels for Schools regional initiative is designed to facilitate use of woody biomass from our nation’s forests by developing a viable, renewable energy source to be used to heat and cool public buildings. The Forest Service is now interested in expanding beyond this regional initiative to move the concept to states, and within tribal nations and rural communities nation-wide.
In the past year significant interest has been expressed by educators, states, tribal leaders, and community leaders to State and Private Forestry and State Foresters to expand the regional initiative nationally. The public request is for the Forest Service to provide leadership, information and funds for feasibility studies and to identify sources of woody biomass, particularly in areas where there are national forests.
Background: Using Forest
Service National Fire Plan Economic Action Programs (EAP) dollars, the Forest
Service Northern Region (R1) focused the use of these funds to launch a Fuels
for Schools effort in 2001 and 2002.
During 2003-2006 Congress earmarked dollars from the EAP program to
complete demonstration projects in
Many rural areas are looking for the information and technology necessary to help them reduce their energy costs for heating and cooling. Efforts are underway by the Forest Service to identify and align current USDA programs to help local school districts and municipal building owners identify loan programs from USDA Rural Development to fund these projects.
for Schools started as a regional initiative to utilize woody biomass generated
by hazardous fuel reduction projects in the wildland urban interface to reduce
fuel costs for rural school districts using EAP and National Fire Plan
funds. There have been several projects
brought on-line, but there is currently no coordinated or funded national
effort. Interest has been expressed from
many other parts of the country for something like a “Fuels for Schools”
program (as well as other municipal buildings) to help provide a local use for
woody biomass from hazardous fuels treatment as well as removal and disposal of
infected material from insect and disease to sustain a healthy forest. The popularity for this technology is high as
the public seeks local renewable energy sources.
Contact: Marcia Patton-Mallory, Forest Service Woody Biomass and Bio-energy Coordinator, 970 295-5947 or Steve Yaddof, State and Private Forestry, 202 205-1386.