Montana DNRC awards Bridger Bowl a $20,000 grant for boiler

By Katie Fletcher | November 11, 2014

The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation has announced the distribution of $110,000 in grants to three wood energy projects in the state. Troy Public Schools, Bridger Bowl Ski Area and SmartLam Technologies Group were the three recipients of the Wood Product and Biomass Utilization Grant, which the DNRC solicited applications for earlier this summer.

“The intent of the Montana DNRC Wood Product and Biomass Utilization Grants is to support increased and improved utilization of forest products, including biomass, in Montana,” said Julie Kies, DNRC Forest Products and Biomass Program director. “This is accomplished, in part, through providing financial assistance to entities engaged in innovative and viable wood and biomass market development, utilization and expansion opportunities.”

The grant request for proposal does not solely focus on wood energy projects, but those happened to be the ones that rose to the top out of several proposals. Bridger Bowl Ski Resort in Bozeman received $20,000 after passing the evaluation criteria. “Bridger Bowl’s proposed project to install a wood boiler on-site was seen as a great opportunity to demonstrate wood energy at a ski area,” Kies said.

Bridger Bowl’s awarded grant money will go towards a $50,000 wood boiler installation next summer. “The benefits to Bridger Bowl are reduced energy bills, and also being able to use a renewable resource,” Randy Elliott, general manager at Bridger Bowl Ski Area.

The cordwood boiler system will run off of beetle-killed timber and wood cut for slop maintenance and forest management on the ski hill. Bridger Bowl will use the Austrian-based Froling FHG-Lambda Turbo 3000 boiler to heat the ski resort’s operations and maintenance shop through radiant floor heating that was already in place. According to Elliott, the boiler should produce about 170,000 Btu’s and has a 600-gallon-pressurized heat and water storage system. Elliott said, one of the reasons they went with this boiler and storage system is because it burns cleanly with a 90-percent efficiency rating. Elliott hypothesizes the installation will pay for itself within 5 years or so.

The installation will help offset the resort’s use of propane. “A lot of ski areas in Montana, if not all of them, are located in more remote areas without natural gas distribution, so they are burning fuel oil or propane to heat their facilities,” Kies said. “Wood fuel is very cost-competitive with those fuels so it makes a lot of sense.

Kies said, that this installation will be the first of a centralized wood energy system at a ski area in Montana, and she expects it won’t be the last. “There are over a dozen ski areas and several other tourism/resort- based communities in Montana that are excellent candidates for wood energy systems,” Kies said. “Ski resorts, in particular, are great candidates for wood energy systems for obvious reasons—they have a high heat demand for both space heat and hot water, and they have a wood fuel supply on-site from forest management on their ski hills.”

The other two awardees of the Wood Product and Biomass Utilization Grant received nearly $100,000 combined. Troy Public Schools received a $50,000 grant to install a high-efficiency wood pellet boiler system at its high school and junior high campus. This boiler system will join a 2008 wood pellet system at the elementary school. Combined, these installations will help reach the goal of heating the entire school district with local renewable wood pellets, displacing fuel oil and propane.

A $40,000 grant was awarded SmartLam Technologies Group in Columbia Falls, Montana, to help install a high-efficiency wood boiler to heat and dry wood to enhance the quality its of manufactured cross laminated timber (CLT). The company has been operating since 2012, and currently produces CLT mats for the oil and gas fields. This boiler installation can help SmartLam expand production into architectural-grade CLT for use in high-efficiency buildings and multi-story wood structures.

Besides these three projects, the DNRC has supported the development of several biomass heating systems in Montana. To date, they have nine schools, two hospitals, two state buildings, and one university campus that are currently heated with wood. According to Kies, they are still working to support new developments including ski areas, hotels, lodges and health care facilities.

“Residents of Montana enjoy our natural environment every day, and most visitors come here because of our natural landscape, mountains and forests,” Kies said. “What better way to honor and support the sustainability of our amazing landscape than by heating and powering our communities, hotels, resorts, and businesses with a local, clean sustainable source of energy from our forests.”