Experts discuss local fuel for local energy systems

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Big picture thinking can mean big savings for our energy system. That was the take away from today’s Power Pairings breakfast featuring Ken Smith of Ever-Green Energy and Katie Fernholz of Dovetail Partners.

As leaders in the combined heat and power and forestry fields respectively, Ken and Katie were brought together to answer the question: Can sustainably harvested wood drive carbon neutral combined heat and power in Minnesota?

The key point, from Ken Smith’s perspective, lies in creating systems that use local resources and use them more efficiently. “Nationwide, we waste about 60 percent of our energy,” Smith said. “We’re a little better in Minnesota but we’re still wasting about 58 percent of the energy we generate because it’s simply given off as heat when the energy is generated.” A closed loop system however, can utilize much of that heat for other uses, such as heating an entire district of buildings.

While one of many options to power those system is burning locally harvested wood, Katie Fernholz wants to ensure we’re valuing our forests for the long term. “In the 1940’s our timber industry used to waste 60 percent of the wood they processed. Today, it’s essentially a zero waste industry,” said Fernholz. “And if the world needs renewable energy, I want forests to play a part in that. We can find the right fuel sources and the right scenarios to use wood for sustainable combined heat and power.”

For years, St Paul has utilized a district heating and cooling system to offer more cost effective, local solutions for buildings throughout downtown. Now, several developments in the metro area, as well as communities such as Rochester and Duluth, are exploring the possibility of similar systems. While careful analysis of carbon impacts must be taken into account as discussions move forward, including the carbon impacts of the status quo, it’s clear that combined heat and power continues to be an attractive and efficient alternative to traditional power generation.

As new projects are explored, Fresh Energy will continue working with leaders in the field in order to shape state and local policies that encourage combined heat and power systems that can reduce carbon emissions and cut waste from the energy system.

This event was the third in a series of four Power Pairings designed to drive discussion and conversation around issues impacting Minnesota consumers, businesses, and utilities. The final event will take place next month:

November 18 – Solar for All: How those trying to block rooftop solar are their own worst enemy. Jon Wellinghoff, Co-chair, Stoel Rives energy team and immediate past Chairman of FERC and James Tong, Vice President, Strategy and Government Affairs, Clean Power Finance.

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