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Campus Life

Montana Western recognized for using energy from burning wood

The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) recently presented the University of Montana Western with a plaque to honor the university’s commitment to wood energy.

biomassVice Chancellor Susan Briggs along with facilities director Dan Payne and Provost Karl Ulrich accepts the plaque from Julie Kries from the Montana DNRC.“We hope that Montana Western will display the plaque in a prominent place for students, staff and community members to see and celebrate,” said Julie Kies of the DNRC Forest Products and Biomass Program.

The DNRC presented the plaque as a way to recognize Montana Western’s efforts to use heat from burning wood and the leadership efforts by university administration to make the efforts successful. UMW has used wood heat to heat 23 to 75 percent of campus annually since 2007. 

Montana Western is the only campus in the state to use wood heat, and the university was the fifth in the state to begin using wood heat. There are now 14 different projects throughout the state using wood heat.

The university is heated with forest biomass fuel. Forest biomass fuel is made up of small-diameter trees, shrubs and debris left over from logging operations and forest fuel reduction projects. It can also include waste from wood manufacturing.

By using wood heat, the university has saved $569,421 since 2007.

In addition to significant cost savings, wood heat can reduce carbon dioxide emissions dramatically. The amount of carbon dioxide offset by Montana Western since 2007 is the equivalent to the carbon dioxide produced by over 12 millions miles driven by a car or the energy use of 487 homes.

Montana Western became a leader in state energy conservation after high utility bills prompted the university to explore other options. UMW partnered with the U.S. Forest Service “Fuels for Schools” program and the DNRC to transition to wood heat. The wood-burning boiler began operating in February 2007. Montana Western was the first state-owned facility in the program.

A grant from the DNRC, administered by Headwaters Research Conservation and Development, covered $400,000 of the $1.4 million system. The Department of Environmental Quality State Energy Conservation Bond Program provided just over $1 million in the form of a 15-year low-interest loan, for the remaining costs of converting to biomass.

Since 2007, Montana Western’s wood heat operations have put $415,369 into the local economy by purchasing wood chips from Montana mills. UMW has used almost 10,000 tons of wood chips since 2007.

“Our universities are the springboards for innovation and for achieving our desired future,” said Kies. “When universities commit to proactive measures to use renewable energy, that sets an example, and ideally, a positive trajectory for the rest of the community, the state and the nation.”