Results of biomass studies presented to City of Grand Marais

Cook County’s forests have more than enough biomass to sustain a district biomass-fueled heating plant in Grand Marais, according to two grant-funded studies undertaken by Dovetail Partners on behalf of Cook County.  The studies look at the feasibility of building and operating a biomass plant, including the amount of biomass that would be needed, the amount that is available, and the economic impacts of such a project.
Numerous configurations have been calculated, ranging from generating heat and power for government buildings, businesses, and residences in the center of town to heating government buildings only.  Last month, the Cook County Biomass Committee met with representatives of the City of Grand Marais to talk about the findings so far.
“The amount of biomass required from any of these district heat configurations is relatively small,” said Project Coordinator Gary Atwood.  The ones believed to be most feasible for district heat would include government buildings along Fifth Street and possibly the downtown business district.  The infrastructure would require pipes buried 24 inches below the street surface.
Up to about 3,400 dry tons of biomass in the form of forest “refuse” per year would be needed for the proposed project, although 5,229 dry tons are already available each year from the Superior National Forest, not including what is cleared for the Firewise program to reduce the impact of wildfires.  The amount harvested would be well under the amount considered sustainable for the health of the forest. “…We’re not going to be driving increased forest harvest,” said George Wilkes of the Biomass Committee and the Cook County Local Energy Project.  City Administrator Mike Roth said, “You’re using a bi-product rather than a commodity someone else wants to use.”
The Biomass Committee will be working on whether entities such as North Shore Hospital and local businesses would see a quick enough payback period or enough benefit to making any necessary retrofits to make getting on board worthwhile.