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A sustainable solution to heating Su Valley High: locally managed forests

by Lorien Nettleton ~ November 9th, 2012

The Mat Su Borough recently released a public notice concerning setting aside a Forest Education and Improvement Study Area for the Susitna Valley High School Renewable Energy Project. The Borough proposes designating a little more than 3,000 acres of Borough forestry lands to be managed to sustainably supply the fuel-wood requirements for a state-of-the-art wood-fired heating system for the school. Arthur Mannix is one of the main proponents for the project, and he is seeking community support for a locally-controlled forestry operation that would set a new bar for sustainable wood harvests in the Mat Su Valley.
KTNA’s Lorien Nettleton has more:

Listen to the Full Story (5:40)

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Two and a half years ago, the Alaska Energy Authority awarded the project $80,000 to develop a specific plan for harvesting the forests near Su Valley High School as a fuel source for a wood-fired boiler system for the school. The boiler system has already been approved, and all that was left was to determine a fuel source. Arthur Mannix says the momentum of the project has been held up by forces from outside the borough

clip: 1 Mannix

Mannix had envisioned a locally-controlled project that would extract 1% of the trees annually, dry them passively in a wood shed, and manually feed them into the boiler to off-set the school’s diesel fuel use. The two forestry parcels selected equal about 3 % of the total forestry parcels within 10 miles of the school. According to Mannix, the size of the forests chosen would provide enough wood to heat the school each year, and would allow the growth rates of the forest to be maintained.

Play Clip: 2Mannix

Grants were written, and awarded supporting the project, and it looked like the plan would proceed as originally envisioned. As the project progressed, a Wood-Pellet manufacturer in North Pole became interested in supplying the school’s wood-fuel source. This is where Mannix says things became complicated, and the project stalled.

Play Clip: 3Mannix

A pellet-fired boiler system would cost roughly 20,000 a year less than the managed forest and cord-wood system. But Mannix says the local area would benefit more from having a locally operated forest, both because of the educational opportunities for Su Valley students, but also because money spent within the borough gets spread around in the borough, boosting the local economy.

Play Clip: 4Mannix

The Borough’s Public Notice is a step towards the original goal of a locally-controlled forest, Mannix says. Because the borough has waited so long on dispersing the grants awarded for the project, they are applying for an extension, but risk losing the grants altogether.

Comments on the Borough’s Public Notice for the Forest Education and Improvement Study Area for the Susitna Valley High School Renewable Energy Project are due November 15th.

View the Public Notice: Public Notice Final.

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