Wrangell, Alaska, looks at bioenergy production in region to combat rising oil prices, increased energy consumption; considers wood and paper briquettes for home use

LOS ANGELES , March 9, 2012 () –

The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) has been evaluating a recent report on the region's preference for energy sources, and taking a look at the region's growing energy consumption and current and future utilization of biofuels for power, KSTK Radio reported March 7.

SEACC Organizer Jeremy Maxand said the group wanted to determine the feasibility of building a production facility in the region for bioenergy fuels, reported KSTK.

Maxand, who is also mayor of Wrangell, Alaska, said a recent survey of 233 residents of Wrangell and nearby Petersburg showed 38% would purchase a locally manufactured bioenergy product.

Rising costs for heating oil are pushing many Alaskans to seek cheaper alternatives, and Wrangell is looking at the possibility of making wood and paper briquettes--also called “bio bricks”--to burn in home woodstoves, KSTK reported.

Multiple factors that include the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), state funding, grant opportunities, small mills and municipal problems with solid waste combine to create an opportunity to “solve” Wrangell's need for energy for heating, said Maxand.

Southeast’s draft IRP said in its study of power over the long-term that the hydropower system saw consumption rise 50% over the past five years. The IRP recommends the use of biofuels in homes and government buildings to reduce the power load, reported KSTK.

In Southeast Alaska, Sealaska Corp. has switched its Juneau headquarters to wood pellet heat from oil. Craig and Thorne Bay heat schools with wastewood boilers.

Last year, on a visit to Wrangell, a Research Forest Supervisor for Sitka’s Wood Utilization Center said one possibility for the area's forest products industry is the conversion of Wrangell’s small-mill woodwaste.

The supervisor, Allen Brackley, said: “In the short term the most viable biomass renewable energy options are some form of wood,"although wind and solar power were also making gains, KSTK reported.

Brackley estimated it would take 23,000 cords of wood to replace all of the fuel oil used by homes and commercial buildings in Wrangell and Petersburg, assuming an unrealistic market penetration of 100%.  He said around 30% might be a more reasonable expectation of market penetration over the next 10 years.

The primary source of this article is KSTK Radio, Wrangell, Alaska, March 7, 2012.

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