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Larch Wood Biomass Energy System Could Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

June 10, 2020

By Rachel Noll

DOC Communications

A sidewalk diverges into three paths; a small flower garden is in the foreground. In the background are buildings, some of which are separated by fence with razor wire.

Larch Corrections Center is located within the Yacolt Burn State Forest, and is approximately 4 miles west of the southwest corner of Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The proposed biomass project will reduce hazardous fuels and improve forest health on the Gifford Pinchot and other forestlands in the area. (DOC Communications)

YACOLT – The Department of Corrections recently received its first grant for a proposed wood biomass energy system at Larch Corrections Center. Biomass is organic material, such as wood, grass clippings and sugar cane, used to generate energy. The goal is to install a modern, efficient wood biomass energy system at Larch to offset the use of fuel oil for heating and domestic hot water, according to the grant application submitted to the U.S. Forest Service.

Wood Energy vs. Fossil Fuel

Currently, Larch uses 74,000 gallons of fuel oil each year. Installing a commercial production biomass boiler and fuel handling system, along with other energy efficient upgrades, would reduce that amount of fuel usage to about 2,470 gallons of fuel oil and 759 tons of locally sourced wood fuel per year. Even more, the greenhouse emissions would see a reduction of 91%.

This project would be the first of its kind for correctional facilities in Washington. The hope is to set an example of sustainability, not just for other facilities in the state of Washington, but across the country. This is all part of Corrections’ continued goal to find ways to increase sustainability in correctional facilities and throughout the department.

Corrections has planned a major energy efficiency upgrade to replace the boilers and repair the heating system at Larch for later this year because the current hot water heater at Larch is failing. Currently, two out of three boilers have failed and the underground hot water distribution system is leaking considerably, despite attempts to repair it.

Typically, facilities replace fossil fuel equipment with more of the same, as fossil fuel options are far more inexpensive in the short-term. The grants make moving toward more sustainable options possible.

Grant Applications at Corrections

This grant application was the first of several. Completing the project will require a total of $1,743,750 and the grant awarded by the U.S. Forest Service will provide $250,000. If Corrections secures all of the funding for the project, the overall cost-savings to Corrections will be highly beneficial.

The grant process is an important part of development for state agencies like Corrections. There are often projects that will greatly benefit a facility or program area that are also quite costly, but grants may exist that could ensure the project moves forward without directly impacting the overall budget.

This is where Julie Dames-Ryan, the department’s new grants administrator, comes in. Her job is to search for grants that could benefit Corrections.

First, the grant administrator and Corrections staff identify areas in need of additional funding or areas where the Department would like to expand specific programs.

The grants administrator then monitors available grants that meet these criteria. Some grant applications open annually, others bi-annually. Once she finds an appropriate grant, she works together with employees in applicable areas, in this case Budget and Capital Planning, to complete the grant application.

Grants are about more than just the process of finding and applying for them, says Dames-Ryan. The process involves forming partnerships and relationships with outside entities, testing pilot programs for efficiency and cost-effectiveness, diversifying funds and finding ways to benefit both Corrections and their partners.

Forming Important Partnerships

Beyond the benefits of moving to a sustainable, ecological option, the biomass energy system project will promote mutually beneficial partnerships between Corrections, Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Gifford National Forest. The collaboration will promote locally sourced forest biomass, reduce the cost of heating for Larch, provide an expanded local use of forest products and promote forest health, thus reducing risk of wildfires.

These mutually beneficial outcomes from the biomass energy system project also help Corrections comply with Governor Inslee’s Executive Order 18-01, State Efficiency and Environmental Performance (pdf), which addresses the need for the state to align day-to-day operational needs with policy goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution.

In addition to support from DNR and Gifford National Forest, the project has the additional support of the Washington Department of Commerce, Washington Department of Enterprise Services (DES) and the Energy Office at Washington State University. Julie Vanneste, Corrections Sustainable Operations Manager, attributes the forward progress of the project to the support and partnership of these entities.

“They each bring pieces to the table we need: expertise in biomass project design, additional space resources and an interest in reducing dependence on fossil fuels, carbon emissions and making better use of the resources in our community,” said Vanneste. “The collaboration this project has attracted and the vision of its supporters has been inspiring. It is these partners and their collaboration that makes this project so much stronger, better designed and beneficial to a wider scope of stakeholders.”

The $250,000 in grant funding is the first step in completing this groundbreaking environmentally conscious project. Corrections remains committed to approaching innovative ways to find sustainable and environmentally friendly solutions in every area possible and looks forward to securing the remainder of the funding, including additional grant funding, in the near future.