Sheldon supports use of wood pellets to heat schools

Veteran lawmaker sees balance between environmental stewardship, job creation

Sen. Tim Sheldon is co-sponsoring legislation that will test the feasibility of heating public schools with recycled, chemical-free wood pellets. The material is manufactured in-state using compressed sawdust or chipped wood salvaged from mills, paper plants and logging companies.

Senate Bill 5709, which received a public hearing last week, stems from a recent study by the Washington State University Extension Energy Program.

“There is a lot of talk about using renewable resources for our energy needs. This bill proposes a solution that accommodates the desire to recycle used wood, and the ability to heat public schools efficiently while reducing carbon dioxide emissions,” said Sheldon, D-Potlatch.

The WSU study looked at the prospect of heating public schools with solid and densified wood pellets made of compressed sawdust and chipped wood without adding any chemicals. The study concluded the use of compacted sawdust to produce pellets increases the energy density by approximately 10 to 15 percent.

The legislation Sheldon is supporting would have the WSU energy program replacing the heating system in one public school with one that uses densified wood pellets as fuel. It would then measure and evaluate the heating system, including a cost comparison with other conventional fuels and emission measurements, and report its findings to the Legislature by the end of 2015.

“Not only do these pellets burn hotter than wood, they release much fewer carbon emissions than natural gas, wood or oil burning furnaces,” Sheldon said. “If this creation is better for the environment, cheaper to yield, and burns at a more consistent temperature, we must give the program a green light.”

“We have seen previous U.S. presidents, both Democrat and Republican, issue executive orders recognizing compressed wood pellets as a viable alternative to traditional wood burning stoves,” Sheldon said. “I recognize that this issue is very technical. However, at the end of the day, we are talking about a heating source that will save schools a lot of money.”

Sheldon said the bill fits right in with the priorities he and his Senate Majority Coalition Caucus colleagues have set for the 2013 legislative session: create jobs, support education and be smart about spending.

“We are looking at results for all of our budgetary decisions, and this decision is a no brainer,” Sheldon said. “Our kids need to have a sustainable heat source that is conducive to creating an optimal learning environment. At the same time we are teaching them about renewable energy, and ways to reduce CO2 emissions. And any new market for the pellet manufacturing industry means jobs.”


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