HSC April 2022: Biomass Information Meeting and Q&A

In attendance: Bob and Glenda Hutton, Ian Johnson, Jeromy Grant, Brynn Presler-Marshall, Andrew Haden (Wisewood), Richard Burke, Erica Drahozal, Julian Narvaez, Clay Good (Renewable Energy Alaska Project), Sean Williams, Nicole Williams, Tina Martin, Bob Barton, John Shelton, Jackie Dick and Ricky Contreras

This month the Hoonah Stewardship Council met to discuss plans and address community concerns about the biomass facility that’s in development.

Meeting Notes

Why is the tribe proposing this project?

Biomass (wood energy) is a readily available source of renewable energy for the Southeast. HIA’s goal is to both help the development of tribal projects (such as the new museum) as well as create a modal for heating and electrical generation around town. The high cost of energy (in excess of 60 cents/kWh for commercial properties) is one of the largest barriers for economic development in Hoonah, and providing cheaper energy will help spur new development. The new facility will create new jobs and provide workforce training as well as lessen our dependence on fossil fuels.

What exactly has been proposed?

Map of the location and connections with the biomass facility

The biomass heat loop will provide heat for 14 buildings and electricity for 3. The white circle in the map above indicates the proposed location for the biomass facility, on top of the bank. The yellow lines show the heat connections, including to the domestic violence housing, city hall, and the youth center. Future connections to the ANB hall, a future community center and local businesses such as Huna Grind may also be added. Blue lines show the electric connections from the biomass plant, to locations such as the HIA apartments, the museum and to the 2000 square feet of commercial greenhouses that will also be constructed. Connecting the HIA apartments, which are now heated with heat pumps, will allow those residents to save money when buying electricity from IPEC. More information about the biomass to greenhouse connection on Prince of Wales can be found here.

What technology is involved?

This project will use a combination of a boiler and gasifier for drying and combusting the wood to produce both heat and electricity. A multi-cyclone filter will remove dust and, and the smoke is combusted multiple times to insure the cleanest air quality possible. There are currently over 150 of these generators currently in use in Germany, and have low enough emissions that they have been safely used in residential areas and near hospitals and elementary schools. It will generate about 984 kWh/year of electricity and 1.8 MkWh/year of heat. While the cost savings are somewhat dependent on the cost of fuel, electricity should be about 1/3 the current price from IPEC and heat will be about 1/4 the current price. More information about the boiler and electricity generation can be found here:

What are the emissions and noise levels predicted to be?

Example noise readings as one walks towards the IPEC building.

The noise levels from the biomass plant will be very similar to that of the IPEC and cold storage buildings. When standing next to the plant, it’s predicted to make 75 dB of noise, which drops to 33 dB when standing 160 feet away. For comparison, the IPEC generator makes 77 dB of noise when standing next to it, and the cold storage makes 66 dB when standing at Huna Grind.

The plant will produce 10 ppm of CO2, which is similar to a natural gas combustor. The multi-staged combustion in the boiler means that particulate emissions will be very low, and there will be almost no visible emissions or smoke coming off the plant (the two exceptions being about 20 minutes of smoke when the plant first starts up and visible water vapor coming from the stack on the coldest of winter days). More information about the greenhouse gas emissions from the project can be found here:

To watch a video of the emissions of this technology click this link

Addressing Community Concerns

There was a lot of discussion through the night – here are questions by people attending and answers to those.

My concern is that area [referencing the area near the church], has a lot of older community members (bad lungs, oxygen machines, etc), can you move it over towards the school where there aren’t a bunch of homes and older people living?

The exact location is pretty close to final, but could technically be moved yet. This is a longer conversation we will have to have at another time and we should continue to talk about it. The currently location was selected because it is centrally located and thus minimizes the amount of pipes needed to run to the buildings compared to if it were, for example, down by the harbor.

How much ash does this create at the levels that we’re estimating? What becomes of the ash created? Stored? Recycled?

The amount of ash created is somewhat dependent on the species of trees being burned and whether or not the bark is still attached. For debarked fir trees, about one percent of the input mass would become ash, though that could get up to 2-3 percent if bark is added. Since we’re planning on using about 800 tons of fuel per year, that would be about 16 tons of ash. In more tangible terms, that is about one or two residential trash cans per week, or the same as 4 smart cars (the little yellow car driving around). Some of the ash can then be composted in the greenhouses and used to help grow food for the community, and additional plans are being developed for disposing of the rest of the ash.

What sorts of logs are we going to be burning?

We hope to primarily be burning residuals from Icy Straits Lumber and other small-diameter thinning cuts. We need 861,000 board feet a year, but it’s designed to be fully redundant so that if there isn’t available wood, it can still run off of diesel. We may end up importing offcuts from mills on Prince of Wales as well, but regardless of how we get our lumber, we’re hoping to have a ten year plan set in place by the time construction begins. The building will be designed to have solar panels on the roof (though they will most likely be added down the road) that will also help produce some electricity regardless of input. One of the selling points of a biomass facility though is getting away from fossil fuels, and we’re not trying to replace that with clear cutting the Tongass.

When you go to planning and zoning, what is the building going to look like, is it going to be an eye-sore? Shouldn’t it be in a commercial area?

HIA’s land is technically zoned as a commercial area. The building is hopefully going to be low-profile (it will be 26 feet tall at the peak, which just over half the height of the water treatment building). It will look similar to the plant in Tok, as seen on slide 14 in the slideshow below.

Will this impact IPEC electric rates?

No. IPEC rules say that old buildings can’t be attached to new power sources, but has an exception for new buildings.

Multiple concerns were raised about the benefits of the facility all going to HIA but the burdens being shared by everyone.

Despite this being a tribal project, many of the benefits of the facility will be shared with the entire community. The electricity produced will power HIA buildings, but the heat will be shared across a variety of ownership. The food grown in the greenhouses will be eaten by the entire community; we’re considering having the groceries being sold through Hoonah Trading Company or at a smaller farmer’s market. The plant will also create jobs (at least four) in the community and will help decrease our fossil fuel consumption and environmental impact by bringing a new energy source to town. Once this model is proved to be successful, the plant could expand and connect to additional buildings, though we are limited by IPECs rules about connecting existing buildings to their own power source.

Where are you planning on drying the wood out down to the needed ten percent? Where will the wood be stored, and will it be a fire risk?

There will be five to seven days of fuel stored in town (with a maximum of one dump truck load needed per day in the coldest parts of winter), and the rest will be stored out of town under a covered canopy. The drying process for the wood takes place in the facility; the input wood can have any level of moisture (green trees are about 50 percent water, so that’s the upper limit we’re assuming) and the gasification system in the heater is used to dry out the wood that will later be burned.

Community Trust and Engagement

The issue was raised that HIA had not asked the community if this was a good idea at the beginning of the processes. People remarked that this was the first they had heard of the project, and that it felt like the project was being pursued without the initial approval of the community.

Other Issues that were not discussed – for Future meetings

  • What is the projected environmental Impact of this project?
  • What are the Greenhouse Gas Emission associated with this facility?
  • Is burning wood more efficient that burning coal or fossil fuels? Does it have a higher or lower energy density?
  • Does the fuel storage increase the fire risk in Hoonah?
  • Would sourcing of biomass contribute to Habitat Fragmentation?
  • How can we ensure that the project will hold itself to a high standard and that any future proposed growth will be completed through a public engagement process?
  • Do we really need the project? Are there are other renewable energy options that fit Hoonah better?

Going Forward

HIA is still working with the city’s planning and zoning committee to get construction permits and gather more community feedback about where to put the plant. Clearly additional meetings are needed to gather feedback on the location and noise concerns about the plant, as well as a clearer plan for sourcing wood.

Meeting Slides

2 Comments

  1. What a great presentation and clarity. Good information draws attention and support. Any use for the sawdust generated by milling? HIA Environment is leading the way back towards local control of resources and workforce development. Good luck throughout the complicated process to new growth!

    • Thanks Wanda! We have looked at the sawdust and may be able to use it in limited quantity but it will burn to hot and fast to use it in large quantities.

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