HOMEGROWN FUEL: North Country School keeps its facilities warm utilizing biomass harvested from its own woodlots. PHOTO: NORTH COUNTRY SCHOOLS
NORTH COUNTRY KNOWHOW Acclimated to the brutal winter conditions in its Adirondack Mountain location, a New York boarding school is mastering its heating fuel logistics. BY ANNA SIMET
estled in the High Peaks Region of the 6 million-acre Adirondack Park near Lake Placid, New York, North Country School is home to around 75 students from all over the world during the school year, and also hosts a summer boarding camp. At 220 feet in the Adirondacks, winters are long, cold and snowy, but as luck would have it, the school is surrounded by the very fuel it uses to keep its residents warm. Not only that, but it owns and manages its own woodlot, drastically cutting fuel purchasing and transportation costs. John Culpepper has worn many different hats at the school over the years, and as the director of facilities and sustainability, a title he has held the past 12 years, he is now responsible for running the energy plant. Over a decade ago, he began looking at replacements for the facility’s 12 No. 2 fuel oil burners, and biomass ultimately won out. “Given that we have a large campus with lots of timber, and 22 BIOMASS MAGAZINE | JANUARY 2017
lots of contiguous land that we manage, going that direction made a lot of sense,” he said. Being a nonprofit organization running on very thin margins, the ability to be able to accurately predict fuel costs is a tremendous benefit, according to Culpepper. The first system installed at the school— construction of which began in 1938—included two cordwood gasifiers manufactured by Garn and Econoburn, and was fired up about eight years ago. It was followed by a 1.4 MMBtu-per-hour, Advanced Climate Technologies centralized wood chip and pellet boiler, an initiative largely funded by a $250,000 NYSERDA and Recovery Act grant, and installed by Sunwood Biomass. “That boiler heats all of our old school building and domestic water,” Culpepper says. “It’s a rambling, 32,000 square-foot building, and poorly insulated.” The cordwood gasifiers consume 40 cords of wood per year, and the chip/pellet boiler consumes an additional 100 cords, all of
which is sourced from the school’s campus, as well as 100 tons of pellets per heating season, fuel that is purchased from and delivered by pellet manufacturer Curran Renewables near Massena, New York. And, pellet stoves are used to heat a couple additional buildings. Soon, Culpepper says, the last of the 12 oil burners will be replaced with an Evoworld pellet and chip boiler, with the help of a New York State and Northern Forest Center grant. The ultimate goal is to source 100 percent of the school’s fuel from its own woodlot, and Culpepper says things are headed in that direction, due in part to the unique fuel prep system he’s been able to work out.
Unique Fuel Prep
Culpepper has tried many different methods of cutting and preparing fuel from the school’s wood lot. “Currently, I hire someone locally, and they cut log links—about 40 cords—and they skid the logs up to a landing,”