Oregon's thermal opportunity would put forest waste to work
By Lee van der Voo
Blue Mountain District Hospital in John Day spent $425,000 to convert to a renewable thermal heating system and is now saving thousands on fuel costs.
Blue Mountain District Hospital in John Day was spending $150,000 on heating bills. With two 1950s-era boilers burning crude oil for both heat and hot water, CEO Bob Houser didn’t have to think hard about where to cut costs.
After the nearby Harney District Hospital switched from oil to wood pellets in 2007, Houser thought he had a solution.
He teamed with A3 Energy Partners — a Portland-based company that designs and installs wood fuel heating systems — to craft a transition plan. By 2010, the hospital had a brand new wood pellet fired boiler and started saving about $100,000 a year — the more oil prices go up, the more fuel savings the project realizes.
The hospital’s story is one that green-leaning supporters say has impacts in triplicate. The project doesn’t just reduce energy costs. It also supports forest health and the local economy by teaming with a local mill for pellets. The Malheur Lumber Company culls pellets from forest thinning and has added 13 jobs as a result of the partnership with the hospital.
The project’s success is a good example of what the Oregon Department of Energy hopes to achieve with a new policy probe that, if developed into law, could convert more large thermal energy consumers to renewable resources, all while supporting economic and environmental goals.
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The idea is still in a tinkering phase — more research than opportunity — but posing such a question is a unique endeavor.
“This is a new area for the state to be innovating in the policy realm, and there are not a lot of states that have really taken a step to address thermal energy use,” said Matt Krumenauer, a senior policy analyst at ODOE who is leading the state’s inquiry. “I think it’s exciting because it primarily helps rural areas.” He adds that these areas lack access to natural gas.
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