If you’re situated on acres of farmland, you just might be able to grow your own fuel to heat greenhouses. That’s what Arie Van Vugt, owner of Plainview Growers is doing at his more rural facility in Allamuchy, N.J.
Van Vugt just purchased a 500-hp burner that will burn wood pellets and pellets made out of grasses, like switchgrass and miscanthus, from Crone Boilers in Holland through Total Energy Group. He will be planting 200 acres of miscanthus in open fields and using wood pellets in the mean time, while waiting for those yields.
GG: What made you consider growing miscanthus as an alternative fuel?
“At our Allamuchy facility, which is farm country, there is no way of getting natural gas–just propane or fuel oil. When we started there nine years ago, we were paying $1 per gallon for No. 2 fuel oil. This past season, it was $4 a gallon. We are using approximately 7,000 gallons every week and could not afford it. We’ll burn 150,000 gallons of oil during the season. It was the first time in my career I was ever forced to make this type of decision based on an outside factor such as energy. We looked at other growers’ operations using wood chips and decided it was too much work, too much handling and not exactly what we were looking to do. When we were tipped off about wood pellets, the whole miscanthus option came up. After much research of all the different types of alternative fuels available, we decided that miscanthus was for Pvg. We have since contacted Rutgers University, which is trialing switchgrass and miscanthus as an alternative fuel source. Together we are working on which varieties are best suited for northern New Jersey.”
GG: How are you making the conversion from fuel oil to miscanthus grass?
“We jumped in with both feet and are going to go for it. We’re putting in 200 acres of grass. It takes two years to establish yields. The grass is a perennial and good for 20 years of production. We just purchased a 500 hp pellet burner from Crone Boilers in Holland and are putting up two 250-ton silos for storage .This season, we will be using wood pellets from Energex Corp based out of Harrisburg PA, and have a two-year contract with set pricing. Once we purchase a pelletizing machine, we will be self sufficient. Our goal is to be oil / gas free ( including Pompton Plains ) within the next few years.”
GG: What do you expect your savings and return on investment to be?
“We expect our return on investment to be four years. With wood pellets, we’ll be paying $1.65 versus $4.00 oil (equivalent at 144,000 btus) when we switch to grass pellets; we expect to save 90 cents more. This is quite an undertaking, an exciting project. I was at a recent bank board meeting and told them about it and it created such a buzz–the whole idea of growing your own energy and fuel. We’re fortunate to have the land to produce it ourselves.”