OLYMPIA, Wash. – Tekoa High School in Whitman County and Darrington Senior/Middle School complex in Snohomish County were both selected to participate in the Wood Pellet Heat in Schools pilot program, helping them trade their fuel oil heating systems for a wood pellet solution as their primary heat source.

During the 2013 legislative session, $500,000 was set aside in the Capital Budget to fund installation of wood pellet boiler systems in two K-12 schools. For the demonstration, supporting legislation required that one school be located in western Washington and one in eastern Washington.

The Washington State University (WSU) Energy Program in partnership with the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) today announced the selection of these two schools.

“We are excited that the Washington State Legislature is giving rural schools with aging building facilities the opportunity to examine cost effective renewable energy alternatives like pellet heating systems,” said Gordon Beck, Director of School Facilities for OSPI. “The ability to demonstrate stable operating costs that come with small scale commercial pellet boiler systems—in the real world—will help open the door for more rural schools to opt for the replacement of ancient fossil fuel systems.”

Research conducted by WSU Energy Program staff identified 35 school districts in Western Washington (57 schools) as well as 15 school districts in Eastern Washington (21 schools) that use fuel oil or propane as their primary heat source, and that met the other legislative criteria. There are also 30 schools in 20 other Eastern Washington school districts with aging oil and propane heating systems.

“Rural communities dependent on traditional fossil fuels—which have historically been subjected to price volatility—are uniquely positioned to move to price stable densified biomass systems,” said David Sjoding, Renewable Energy Manager at the WSU Energy Program. “Besides showcasing a common sense solution to saving money, the pilot program can demonstrate the value added benefits to the timber communities—including the protection of the health and well-being of our forests, and feature another way to address carbon reduction.”

Data provided by school districts included the age of the school and the existing heating systems, student enrollment and other heating system information.

Letters of invitation to participate were sent to those districts with qualifying schools by OSPI.

Four school districts in western Washington and six school districts in eastern Washington expressed an interest in participating in the demonstration project. The two schools selected most closely met the criteria established by the Legislature.

Rural communities in other timber-oriented locations throughout the Northwest and the rest of the country have discovered cost savings and efficiency with small scale commercial pellet heating systems. “This is especially true of the Northeast—where fuel oil and propane dependency remain,” said Sjoding.

“Expanding the use of solid biomass fuels in technologically efficient heating systems is a logical step toward reducing fossil fuel dependency, and schools should see immediate energy cost savings—and scarce dollars can be redirected to other priorities.”

Next steps include meetings with school officials and other key local stakeholders, addressing questions about the program, onsite evaluation of existing systems by WSU Energy Program engineering experts and developing a formal feasibility study with cost analysis based on system findings. The school board and school officials can then decide to move forward.

Contacts:

WSU: Sheila Riggs, WSU Energy Ext. Program Division Mgr, 360-956-2074, slriggs@wsu.edu

OSPI: Nathan Olson, 360-725-6015