The Alaska Energy Authority has 14 biomass boiler projects on its to-do list this year, six of which will share $20 million from the state, AEA biomass project manager Devany Plentovich said.
At the state Board of Forestry meeting Wednesday, Plentovich gave a presentation on the growth of biomass energy use in Alaska and new Environmental Protection Agency proposals that could affect Alaska’s biomass boilers.
The AEA is a state entity established by the Legislature in the 1970s to turn Alaska’s natural resources into energy. Biomass — specifically energy created by burning wood — is particularly viable in many Alaska towns, Plentovich said, and is growing in popularity.
Since the AEA’s biomass efforts ramped up in 2006, the organization has performed 75 biomass feasibility studies across the state. A feasibility study is the first step before AEA funds a project. This year, Plentovich said, 13 more entities have submitted applications to the AEA.
The biomass projects to be funded this year by the state’s Renewable Energy Fund are those in Galena, Kake, Ketchikan, Haines, Minto and Yakutat.
“These are good projects,” Plentovich said after her presentation. “These projects have been in development for a number of years.”
The expected $20 million state funding will cover the six prioritized projects, but eight more boilers across the state make up a second tier of the organization’s to-do list.
“Even the second tier are good projects,” she said. “We would love to figure out how to get them all done.”
Biomass boilers can be built to heat individual buildings or groups of buildings. They can be stoked with cord wood, wood chips or wood pellets, and have increased in popularity as heating oil has gone up in price.
In 2010, the Sealaska Corporation installed the state’s first large-scale pellet boiler at its Juneau headquarters. Plentovich said pellet boilers are especially viable in Juneau, where pellet production poses an “economic development opportunity.”
Pellets are typically made of compressed wood scraps, making them an ideal secondary product of Southeast Alaska’s sawmills.
“Pellets are very conceivable for Juneau,” she said. “There’s a growing interest in Juneau for biomass.”
“It’s a local fuel as opposed to barging in fuel oil,” she said.
Also at the Board of Forestry meeting, State Forester Chris Maisch gave an update on SB28, a measure that would establish a state forest in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley.
Maisch attended a Mat-Su Borough Assembly meeting Tuesday evening in which the group approved a resolution in support of the bills and establishing the state forest, according to the assembly’s agenda. Getting the borough’s support will expedite the process of turning the bill to law, Maisch said.
The Susitna State Forest would be about 763,000 acres, according to a briefing paper from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. The state already owns the land, Maisch explained, but turning it to state forest would create “long-term access to resources” and enable economic development in the area.
Maisch said he expects SB28 to be heard by the Senate Resources Committee on Friday.
“There’s still time to have this bill happen,” he said. “We’ve actually got a chance to still make it happen this session.”