Hospital, public safety proponents study economical sources of heat

<center>Dan McCarthy</center>

How to heat both the new hospital facility for Wallowa County and the new public safety building on adjacent property are questions now in the planning stages. With construction on the two buildings to get underway no later than the spring of 2005, administrators are hard at work seeking heating options.

New hospital Project Manager Dan McCarthy said that civil and mechanical engineers have been at work over the last few weeks studying heating and cooling options and, though he is quick to state that any conclusions are premature, he suggests that geothermal is one leading option. According to McCarthy, ground water below the proposed site is at about 65 degrees and wells or a closed loop system could possibly be used to control heat or cooling energy generated by the changing of the water's temperature. He said that heat could be produced if the water cooled from 65 degrees to 33 degrees.

The front-end costs of producing geothermal energy are more expensive, but the long-range savings could make the energy alternative more attractive. More studies will have to be made to determine the benefits and detriments of the heating and cooling source specific to Wallowa Memorial Hospital.

Other potential heat sources for the facility that is projected to be built and occupied by fall 2006 are the fossil fuels of propane and diesel. McCarthy said that biomass has been suggested as a potential heat source, but noted that not as much information on that source is currently available to the hospital administrators. McCarthy said the hospital will need a backup supply of heat.

Wallowa County Commissioner Ben Boswell said that the heating source planned for the public safety building is propane. He also suggested biomass as an alternative. Boswell noted that the public safety building will be built and occupied before the hospital, so will have to first have its heating in place. He did suggest that heating in connection with the hospital could be realized in the future.

Wallowa Resources, a local non profit organization, has been studying the energy producing medium of biomass and has determined that it would not be economically feasible to produce electricity by burning wood chips on a large scale. Wallowa Resources spokesman Nils Christoffersen said such might not be the case on the smaller scale, such as at Wallowa High School, where school superintendent John Nesemann has expressed an interest in biomass as a source of heat for the school.

Christoffersen said the initial cost of installing a biomass system can run $400,000 for a semi-automated boiler, but the monthly expense of the heating medium is 30 percent cheaper than No. 2 heating oil systems used in most schools. His plan is to research biomass installation, operations, layout and a basic feasibility study for Nesemann by the end of the year. He said that research concerning grants and federal money to finance the change to wood fuel would take longer. According to Christoffersen the information could easily be shared with the Joseph and Enterprise school districts.

Christoffersen said that a chip facility could be purchased for the four-person post and pole operation run by Wallowa Resources in Wallowa and "easily" provide enough chips to fuel the Wallowa school.

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