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Using sawmill leftovers to power homes

Katrin Frye

After years of raising money, securing a buyer, and months of construction F-H Stoltze Land and Lumber’s cogeneration plant is running. The plant will be providing up to 2.5-megawatts of power to the Flathead Electric Co-op for 20-years. That boils down enough to power between 1,800 and 2,500 homes. Plant Manager Bryan O’Connor said the biomass boiler burns a mix of sawdust, bark, and wood chips produced from the sawmill to produce steam which then is used to dry lumber, and to turn a turbine which generates energy for the power grid. O’Connor said many manufacturers use this idea, not just the lumber industry.

“People run their steam through a turbine and then extract it, and they can use that to do a number of different things; you can heat buildings, you can actually use steam absorption chillers and you can actually do air conditioning, with steam,” O’Connor said.

Stoltze broke ground on the co-generation plant in August of 2012. It’s been a multi-year-process starting with raising the 22-million-dollars for the plant which O’Connor said came from private investment and grants. Then they had to secure the power purchase agreement with the Co-op, update their engineers training, and actually build the plant.

“We’re finally at the point where we’re putting power on the grid, and we’re ready to start our contract, and it’s a great feeling, it’s exciting, and we’re very very happy to have forged this contract with Flathead Electric, and we think it’s just a great thing for our company, and for the valley,” O’Connor said.

The contract with Flathead Electric Co-op starts on October First.

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