Coast Guard chooses pellet heat for Sitka station

Posted: Monday, September 27, 2010

SITKA - The Coast Guard plans to install a wood-fired boiler to provide heat to the Sitka Air Station.

The pellet-burning system will save money on heating bills and help the Coast Guard meet a federal mandate to reduce carbon emissions, said Sudie Hargis, an energy program specialist with the Coast Guard civil engineering division in Juneau.

The wood pellet boiler should be installed by next winter, replacing traditional oil-fired boilers at the air station on Japonski Island.

"We're going down the pellet path," Hargis said.

The air station, not including the Coast Guard housing on Japonski, burns about 90,000 gallons of heating oil a year, Hargis said. Burning the wood pellets will reduce the oil consumption dramatically and "displace" 1,800 tons of carbon emissions each year, she said.

Some Coast Guard housing in New England is heated with wood. The Sitka boiler will be the first to heat a commercial-size building in the agency with wood, she said.

There are no pellet manufacturers in southeast Alaska but Hargis told the Sitka Sentinel she hopes one will emerge. Sealaska Corp. is converting its downtown Juneau corporate headquarters to a wood pellet heating system and has purchased a truck to help deliver and store the biomass product. The Coast Guard has had preliminary discussions with the regional Native corporation about working together to obtain pellets, which initially will be shipped from Prince Rupert, B.C., or Seattle.

A draft report released Wednesday was paid for with stimulus money from the Federal Energy Management Program, an arm of the Department of Energy. The report found that it was not economically viable for a central plant to heat the Coast Guard air station, University of Alaska buildings, Mount Edgecumbe High School and a hospital in part because of the distance between the buildings.

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