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School board contemplates biomass-fired boiler for Portola High School

Laura Beaton
Staff Writer
10/14/2013

 

With a seemingly unending surplus of biomass produced as a byproduct of logging and fire-safe clearing, a biomass-fired boiler could save Plumas customers tens of thousands of dollars a year.

Wisewood Inc., developer of state-of-the-art biomass energy projects, estimated a $50,000 – $60,000 savings for Portola Junior-Senior High School’s heating costs if a biomass-fired boiler is employed.

The school board said at its Oct. 3 meeting that it is interested in learning more about the feasibility of a biomass facility providing heat for the school, which is slated to replace its boiler next year.

A one-hour presentation, given by Sierra Institute’s executive director, Jonathan Kusel; SI’s renewable energy/biomass utilization program lead, Mik McKee; and Andrew Haden, owner of Portland, Ore.-based Wisewood Inc., said the proposed biomass boiler is clean, energy-efficient and economical.

Two options were presented to the board: the first is for Plumas Unified School District to build a plant at Portola High School and maintain it themselves for a cost ranging from $970,000 to $1.28 million, depending on whether an ESP (electrostatic precipitator, which further reduces particulate matter) is installed.

The second option is to obtain “heat at the pipe” from a private biomass facility owner, such as Wisewood or another private entity.

The conversation included discussion about partnering with Eastern Plumas Health Care and the city of Portola to share a single biomass facility that could be centrally located and provide heat to all three entities.

Wisewood said that PHS is “an excellent candidate for biomass heat, and could be a model for woody renewables-heated school campuses across California.”

The region’s forests provide a readily available source of biomass (woodchips) that would dictate the type of plant built.

Although no specific source of chips has yet been secured, Sierra Institute is working on procuring a reliable source for the 2-inch “bone-dry chips” that would fuel the plant.

With an 85 percent efficiency rating and much lower fuel costs, a biomass boiler for PHS would be cash positive in eight – 10 years, Haden said.

In addition to the feasibility study for Portola High School, Wisewood Inc. completed three other studies in the county: for the Plumas National Forest Supervisor’s Office, PNF Mt. Hough Ranger District and Eastern Plumas Health Care.

Kusel, McKee and Haden gave a presentation to the board of supervisors at its meeting Oct. 1. The trio gave a report on the Plumas Energy Efficiency and Renewable Management Action Plan (PEER MAP).

“The primary focus of the project is on advancing small-scale biomass boilers and solar photovoltaics, the two most locally abundant renewable resources in Plumas County,” Kusel wrote in his introduction to the board.

“A biomass-powered combined heat and power facility will also be explored as part of this larger project.”

 

Electric cars

Dave Valle, a science teacher at Portola High, told the board during the public hearing on sufficiency of textbooks that the school’s 2006 AP environmental science books are outdated and need to be updated.

He said there is no mention of electric cars or President Obama in the textbooks. Ed Thompson, director of student performance, assessment and instructional services, said he would follow up on ordering textbooks.

 

Superintendent’s Award

Superintendent Micheline Miglis awarded two students from Portola the Superintendent’s Award. Last month Miglis awarded two Chester students in the debut of the award, which recognizes students for their meritorious achievements.

Second-grader Emma Beckley and eighth-grader Evan Gravett were recognized in a brief ceremony by their principals, who acknowledged their outstanding achievements. The superintendent then congratulated the students and presented them with a certificate.

 

Linked Learning

Aurora Westwood gave a presentation to the board regarding Linked Learning. The district has a $25,000 memorandum of understanding with Feather River College in place to pursue CTE (career technical education) pathways.

Linked Learning is a unique educational opportunity for high school students, rooted in common core and skills for the workplace. The four pillars of the program mesh rigorous academics, technical skills, work-based learning and support services.

Westwood emphasized the importance of engaging students in real-world learning. The partnership with FRC ensures professional development for teachers in the form of conferences, guest speakers and site visits.

 

Financial conversion

Yvonne Bales, director of business services, said the new financial software program was fully implemented Oct. 1. She said the new paychecks are vastly improved from the old ones, providing much more significant data to employees.

Bales gave kudos to the payroll department, which she said had the most complicated piece of the conversion. She congratulated payroll for ensuring that close to 500 district employees’ data was correctly entered into the system.

Bales reported on the unaudited actuals. Of note was an increase in state revenue of approximately $180,000 from ROP classes. Bales said culinary arts classes in the district increased revenues by about $10,000, which will go directly back to culinary arts programs.

She said overall revenues were up $194,000 with an ending fund balance of $1.6 million.

 

Enrollment information

Bales reported actual attendance figures as of Sept. 10. The district’s total enrollment is down by 22 students.

Indian Valley Elementary reported 17 fewer students than last year while Greenville High School had an increase of one student.

The Chester schools had a net increase of 13, Quincy had a net decrease of 27 and Portola had a net increase of nine students. Bales said Plumas Charter School picked up 19 students.

The enrollment trend for the past 10 years has shown a considerable decline. In 2002 the district had 3,065 students. The September figures show 1,914 students. The years 2006 and 2007 showed the largest decline of students in the decade: 175 fewer students in ’06 and 198 fewer in ’07.

The next PUSD board meeting is set for Thursday, Nov. 7, 5 p.m. at the Greenville High School library.


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