Agency seeks public input on timber harvest for proposed Greely biomass heat/power plant

Sep 21, 2012

The state Division of Forestry will soon begin asking for public input on a proposal to harvest timber from the state forest around the Delta-Greely area for a biomass-fueled heat and power system for Fort Greely.

Edgren says the state Division of Forestry will over the next four months be holding meetings and soliciting public comments on the proposal, which would require harvesting timber on up to 1,500 acres of the state forest annually over 25 years to provide some 110,000 tons of fuel for the fort’s proposed biomass combined heat and power plant.
The public input is the first part of a process of compiling a document that outlines the case for allowing the harvest.
“This is public land, so we can’t make decisions about public land in a vacuum,” he said. “There needs to be a public process."

'There needs to be a public process.'

Fort Greely officials were unable to respond specifically to queries about the proposal on Wednesday and Thursday. A fort spokeswoman stated in an e-mail sent Thursday afternoon that there isn’t yet an official proposal for the project and that details were not yet available.
Edgren briefed the Delta City Council on Tuesday about the proposed biomass plant, which would include a 6.5-megawatt electrical generating facility powered by a steam from a boiler that also would provide heat for the main part of the fort, not including Allen Army Airfield or the missile-defense base.
Edgren said in an interview on Wednesday that he and other Forestry officials have since January been talking about the proposal with representatives from the post and with Siemens Industry Incorporated, an energy-services company that had been contracted to conduct an energy-conservation audit for the fort.
Edgren says after several meetings about possible sources of renewable energy, Forestry officials convinced the company representatives that the amount of biomass required for the Greely project must include harvest of black spruce that grows everywhere in this part of the state forest.

Tok School's biomass boiler provides heat and, when tests are completed, electricity for the main schoolhouse. A larger system would be required for the proposed Fort Greely project.
Credit Photo courtesy of Alaska Gateway School District

That’s a major component of the biomass fuel used in two alternative-energy facilities that have been built in the area over the past couple of years, one at Delta High School, the other at Tok School. Both facilities have greatly reduced the two school districts’ fuel oil expenditures and yielded big savings over the past year – about $180,000 for Tok, and about $400,000 for Delta.
Edgren says when the Siemens and Army representatives met again with Forestry officials in July, they no longer were fishing around for information and had put together what he says was a serious proposal.
 “They said, ‘We think we have a project here, and we’re ready to talk turkey.’  And it went from fishing to ‘This project’s a go.’”
The proposed biomass plant could make Fort Greely the first so-called NetZero U.S. military installation – meaning the first installation to produce as much energy on site as it uses, over the course of a year.
The facility would be designed to generate enough excess electricity, in the summer, to feed power back into the grid – enabling the post to generate revenue through power sales.    
The facility would cost an estimated $35 million, and would yield savings from avoiding costs through greatly reduced operating costs and purchases of fuel oil.
The project also would help Greely comply with a law passed by Congress in 2005 requiring U.S. military installations to among other things get at least 15 percent of the energy that they use from a renewable source.