PLAINS – The Clark Fork Valley Hospital had a special visitor on Thursday, August 22.
Steve Marshall, the assistant director for cooperative forestry for the US Forest Service, came down from the national headquarters in Washington D.C. to tour the biomass heating system the hospital has.
Marshall oversees the forest service’s national biomass program and on his tour of the facilities he planned to meet with networks of hospitals to try to get more hospitals to convert to the biomass system, meet with different wood production businesses, and learn what the forest service has done in the state of Montana.
The hospital’s biomass heating system is powered by burning wood pellets that fire a boiler, which heats water that is then circulated throughout the building to heat the facility.
Director of Human and System Resources at CFVH, Barry Fowler, explained the wood pellets are made out of saw dust, which is compressed using high pressure.
The hospital has seen great success with the system.
“We were hoping that it would pick up eighty percent of the heating load for the hospital itself. We are carrying 95 to 99 percent of our heating load (with this system),” said Fowler.
The system went live on December 28, 2011 and since then Fowler told Marshall the hospital has only experienced one slight problem with the system – a problem that was easily fixed when they upgraded their fuel to a higher-grade material.
Now the system runs smoothly and the expected payback of the system should save the hospital about two million dollars in energy costs, said Fowler.
Last year the hospital saved $61,000 and even though the hospital did incur debt to build the system, Angela Farr, Regional Biomass Coordinator for the Northern Region of the Forest Service, explained that so far it has been revenue neutral for the hospital – with the savings being bigger than their loan payments.
“Hospitals really need to look at this because that’s a huge chunk of their budget,” said Fowler. “It’s been a great experience for us and we just can’t believe that other people aren’t jumping on board of this thing.”
One unique thing about the hospital’s system was that when a 35,000 square foot addition was added onto the hospital in 2005, extra space was saved to help accommodate a biomass system in the future.
Marshall said that saving the extra space for the system is something that is uncommon, but he believes is a good idea.
The tour of the heating system was held by Fowler, Todd Schaper of McKinstry – the company who helped build the system, and Plant Services Manager Dennis Bursell.
Julie Kies, the Biomass Coordinator for Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, said her department helped secure a $100,000 grant for the system.
“We helped in a couple of different stages: one with the initial feasibility stages, planning and engineering grants to cover those costs and we also facilitated the sale of carbon offsets for (the hospital),” said Kies.
After completing the tour, Fowler thanked Marshall, Farr and Kies for helping make the system possible.
“This is one instance where you guys really made a great difference – thanks,” said Fowler.