Indeck Energy helps schools cut costs with biomass

By Anna Austin | May 31, 2010
With the help of a state program and Indeck Ladysmith LLC, schools in Wisconsin may have the opportunity to reduce fuel costs by switching to woody biomass.

Through a state-funded program, Focus on Energy's Fuels for Schools and Communities, Wisconsin schools have been able to obtain free prefeasibility assessments to determine whether replacing their old boilers and furnaces with wood pellet boilers would be economical.

Mike Curci, Indeck Ladysmith Biofuel Center superintendent, said he initially meets with school officials to determine what kind fuel the school uses-oil, natural gas or propane-what its requirements are and whether wood pellets are a better option. "Once the prefeasibility assessment determines it's worth the switch to biomass, Focus on Energy will do a full feasibility study and depending on a positive outcome, we look into long-term fuel contracts with the school to help offset the initial capital cost," he said.

Indeck Energy Services Inc., which offers biofuels production and electrical generation facilities, operates a 90,000 ton per year wood pellet facility in Ladysmith, Wis., that would supply the schools. A typical-sized kindergarten through fifth grade northern Wisconsin school would require about 250,000 to 300,000 tons of wood pellets annually, Curci said, at an [industry] average cost of $140 per ton, prior to delivery fee. Indeck Energy is also looking into working with schools in northern Minnesota.

So far, the results of feasibility studies have been promising, as Indeck Energy has found about 10 schools that would be able to install the new boilers and eventually see cost-savings associated with the conversion. Curci said whether a school is a good candidate mainly depends on its current fuel contract. "Since natural gas prices are low right now it might not be as good [to switch from] a natural-gas fired boiler, but as natural gas prices increase over the next couple of years, that will change," he said. "If a school is using propane or No. 2 fuel oil, it's always a positive switch."

A Focus on Energy-funded study conducted in 2008 by the Biomass Energy Resource Center found that as many as 25 percent of Wisconsin schools could save hundreds of thousands of dollars in energy costs by switching from natural gas to wood or other biomass. According to the study, Wisconsin schools spend nearly $200 million a year on energy.

Today, many schools have experienced declining income or funding, however, and may not be able to afford the initial capital costs of changing out their heating system. To help alleviate that financial burden, Focus on Energy will provide up to $250,000 to a school to go toward implementing a biomass system. These funds will allow Indeck Energy to lease boilers to schools that are strapped for cash along with a long-term fuel contract. After a period of years the school would own the system.

Indeck Energy's branch Indeck Keystone Energy Inc. designs and manufactures industrial boilers at Erie, Pa., but Curci said the company is also looking at several other commercial and industrial systems on the market to help schools select the best fit.