Wood pellet study says region could save millions, create jobs

| April 7, 2014 | 0 Comments
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LA CROSSE, Wis. — (AP) Using wood pellets for fuel in southwestern Wisconsin could save millions of dollars a year in energy costs, slash carbon dioxide emissions and create at least 80 jobs, according to a study.

The report, commissioned by the Mississippi River Regional Planning Commission, says regional forests could provide plenty of biomass that otherwise just decomposes, the La Crosse Tribune reported Saturday.

If one in five households and businesses in Crawford, Monroe, Richland and Vernon counties switched to wood pellets from propane, heating oil or electricity, they could Wood Pellets Stovesave more than $2.6 million a year, the study found. That level of demand would also support a small pellet plant, which could support about 80 jobs and have a $4 million impact on the regional economy, the analysis said.

The study was funded by $52,000 in grants from the federal Department of Commerce and the Wisconsin Department of Administration.

There are eight wood-pellet plants in Wisconsin, but the nearest to that region is in Ladysmith, 130 miles north of La Crosse.

The region’s forest lands, about half of which are privately owned, could provide an adequate supply of biomass, the study said, noting that the vast majority of the area isn’t actively managed.

Of course, switching fuel sources comes with challenges. Heating equipment would have to be replaced, and acquiring pellet supplies takes more work that receiving conventional fossil fuels.

Stoves that burn wood pellets cost between $1,600 and $4,000 and can be used to heat rooms or an entire home. A bag of pellets costs $4 to $5 and provides about the same heat as 3½ gallons of propane, which sells for about $2.09 a gallon.

Also, pellet customers generally buy 40-pound bags at a store, or have them delivered on 1-ton pallets. They then have to haul the bags inside and load them into the stove.

The study also highlights environmental benefits. Switching 20 percent of homes in the four-county region would reduce carbon emissions by about 13 percent, the equivalent of removing 5,000 cars from the road.

“We’re trying to push the idea that we have this under-utilized forest resource that’s essentially wasting away,” said Greg Flogstad, director of the planning commission that produced the study. “We can utilize it for heat, jobs and improve the environment.”

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