Wood energy grants again offered in Alaska

Andrew Haden of Wisewood, Inc., a Portland-based design firm, explains how the Ketchikan Airport’s biomass boiler works last June. It was partially funded by a U.S. Forest Service wood innovation grant. (Photo by Leila Kheiry/KRBD)
Andrew Haden of Wisewood, Inc., a Portland-based design firm, explains how the Ketchikan Airport’s biomass boiler works as it begins running in June 2016. It was partially funded by a U.S. Forest Service wood innovation grant. (Photo by Leila Kheiry/KRBD)

The U.S. Forest Service is offering another round of grants promoting wood-energy projects in Alaska.

Earlier grants have helped design boilers and plan wood-pellet mills in Southeast and Interior communities.

Forest Service Wood Innovation Coordinator Dan Parrent said they’re meant to expand use of blowdowns, mill scraps and similar material.

“We’re looking at ways of utilizing wood that needs to come out of the forest to reduce hazardous fuel loading or for forest health purposes,” he said. “We’re trying to create markets for that material that doesn’t otherwise have strong markets.”

He said most Alaska grants, for up to $250,000 each, go to wood-energy projects. But the program also helps develop new timber products, such as laminates, or expand existing markets.

Grants can go to businesses, organizations and government agencies. Recipients must contribute part of the funding.

Parrent said program guidelines limit how the money can be used.

“It’s mostly for the softer costs. It’s for project development, it’s for designs, it could be used for permitting. … But not for actual construction,” he said.

Applications must be submitted by Jan. 23. Awards will be announced in April.

A number of organizations have been promoting wood-energy projects around the state. One is the Southeast Conference, a regional economic-development group.

The conference’s energy coordinator Robert Venables said the grants have been valuable.

“It’s been used from Ketchikan to Haines to help some of these projects get vetted out and ready for either implementation or not, if that’s what the feasibility [study] shows,” he said.

Wood has been promoted as a low-cost energy source that causes less environmental damage than fuel oil.

But critics point out that it still releases carbon into the air, contributing to climate change. They also say forests should not be cleared of blowdowns and woody debris, which decays and helps build up soil and feed future trees.