A project designed to supply cheap heating to downtown Enterprise businesses is back on track.
Kyle Petrocine, program manager for Wallowa Resources and Community Solutions Inc., has been in discussion with businesses that could benefit from the biomass project and recently presented an update to Enterprise City Council.
Wallowa Resources received an Oregon Department of Forestry grant to do the initial design three years ago, but afterward, fluctuations in the price of fuel oil resulted in the project being shelved.
Three years later, woody biomass fuel continues to provide a heating savings over propane, fuel oil or electricity –– so the project is back on. Construction on the downtown Enterprise project could conceivably begin next spring or summer, Petrocine said.
The proposed design is for a biomass boiler that runs on wood pellets. The boiler plant would generate 1 million BTU per hour and use about 150 tons of pellets. That’s equivalent roughly 11 gallons of propane per hour.
The original plan called for the plant to be set in the back parking lot of city hall, but the new city hall and fire hall footprint consumed that space. The latest plan has the boiler in the basement of a nearby building. Ralph Swinehart, owner of the EM&M Building and Andy McKee, owner of the newly remodeled Burnaugh Building, have expressed a willingness to consider putting the plant in their basements.
Originally biomass boilers burned wood chips, but experience with boilers showed wood pellets to be “the most bulletproof, lowest operation and maintenance systems,” Petrocine said.
As an example, three Eastern Oregon biomass heating plants, at John Day Hospital, John Day Airport and Burns Hospital, were built to use wood pellets and all three customers are happy with their operation and significant energy use savings, Petrocine said.
Early concerns over consistent delivery of fuel have since been answered as thinning and other reclamation projects in the forest increase the pellet supply.
“There is an oversupply of pellets, and everybody is trying to figure out how to create more demand for pellets,” said Nils Christoffersen, executive director of Wallowa Resources.
Christoffersen was also able to offer the experience of Wallowa Resources office complex, where a biomass system has supplied heating for nearly six years. There has been no problem with fuel supply, Christoffersen said.
Pellets are readily available from Strawberry Mountain Pellets of John Day, Malheur Lumber Co., Blue Mountain Pellet Co. of Pendleton and another supplier in Lewiston. Furthermore, the price has not changed significantly, holding steady at approximately $175 per ton.
Petrocine said that the project study indicated that downtown Enterprise customers of the biomass system would save 3.5 to 10 percent on their heating. If propane, electricity or fuel oil prices increase, that savings could be significantly higher.
A 2018 study of fuel costs showed that pellet-fed biomass heating costs were $12.94 per million BTU, Propane $27.46; fuel oil, $26.96; and electricity $35.93.
The Enterprise project would supply hot water heat to at least nine downtown buildings. The new city hall forced air propane system is compatible with the hot water system while still allowing propane to remain as a backup-heating source.
Other buildings considered for service are the Burnaugh Building, Pioneer Guest House, EM&M building, Oddfellows Hall, Enterprise City Library, Knapp Law Office and Abundant Life Assembly of God.
The system is expandable and other nearby businesses could be included. Wallowa Resources and Community Solutions Inc. will own, operate, finance and build the biomass plant and enter into contracts with customers.
There are plenty of details to be ironed out before construction begins. An official zoning application will be made to the city at which time the city will make a decision as to whether to participate in the project.