A wood chip isn’t a wood chip anymore. Who knew? Pleasant View Gardens for one, especially since it has installed a second biomass burner. Taking sustainability to the ultimate level, Pleasant View is now 95 percent oil free, heating both its Loudon and Pembroke, N.H., facilities almost entirely with wood chips.
“It works really well for us because we’re a propagator,” says Henry Huntington, Pleasant View president. “We’re heating a lot of space at a critical time of year.”
Between more than 11 acres across the two locations, Pleasant View was burning 600,000 gallons of No. 2 fuel oil per year. When heating bills nearly doubled to almost $2 million, the time for simply talking about adding a biomass burner was over.
Always focused on reducing energy and labor costs, Pleasant View istalled a $2 million Hurst biomass burner in 2008. Though the learning curve was steeper than expected, the rewards keep coming. So much so that the operation installed a second burner–this one being a $3 million Vyncke boiler that was brought on line at Loudon on February 1. Now versed in the ways of wood chips, Pleasant View is maximizing the possibilities for maximum results.
When The Chips Are Up
For the Pembroke boiler, Pleasant View originally sourced whole tree chips, which are exactly what they sound like: large chips plus sticks, twigs and other extras. Unfortunately, the screening system couldn’t filter the whole tree chips, and frequent clogs led them to switch to the easier-to-process bole chip. More uniform and with few sticks and twigs, bole chips go through the system easily.
While that adjustment has resulted in a slight uptick in wood chip costs (bole chips run about $11 per ton more than whole tree chips), Huntington argues the switch has been well worth it.
“We were past the bulk of the learning curve after a month. We spent a year or so refining, and that experience certainly helped with the install at Loudon.”
Looking At Loudon
The Loudon and Pembroke locations couldn’t be more different, which changed install considerations even before Pleasant View chose a system. Pembroke is one large gutter-connected range with centralized heating. Everything is connected, and the entire site is level. It was the obvious choice for Pleasant View’s first biomass installation.
Loudon, on the other hand, is an older facility with multiple gutter-connected greenhouses spread out over a large footprint. Heating wasn’t centralized, and the site was anything but level. In fact, it sits on a hill. And that meant significant site work–blasting, filling, leveling, grading, piping and plumbing, plus tying all the houses to one central system. Nearly a half million of the $3 million bill at Loudon went to site prep.
The steep undertaking had the team intending to put off the installation until late 2011, until energy prices rose, the euro’s value dropped and payback suddenly got shorter. When Vyncke made Pleasant View a great deal, it was all systems go for late 2010 to early 2011 instead.
From blasting to lighting the flame, the Loudon install took six months, compared to four to five months for Pembroke. “It was really double the amount of work because of the site,” says Russ Elkins, facilities manager.
Once the site was prepped, Thermal Energy came in from Canada to do the components and installation. Elkins likens the Vyncke system at Loudon to a Cadillac, in contrast to the Chevy run at Pembroke. Both have their advantages and benefit their locations well. The Vyncke system features many bells and whistles, including multiple sensors, water jacketing in the boiler for higher efficiency and convenience alarms.
“It’s on a PC with a large monitor so you can see everything–all the water flow, all the elements,” Elkins says. “That’s a godsend. It’s very user friendly, and the computer screen makes it workable for anyone.”
Like the Hurst boiler, the Vyncke system burns wood chips, but a different screening and conveying setup means Pleasant View can process whole tree chips with none of the logjams experienced at Pembroke.
Another difference between Pembroke and Loudon: hot water storage tank size. Biomass boilers use the tanks to help supply hot water to greenhouses. Pleasant View installed a larger tank at Loudon: 250,000 gallons compared to 100,000 gallons at Pembroke.
“The larger tank gives us more backup and more capacity,” Elkins says. “Heating with biomass takes more time, and this provides us the flexibility we need.”
That is also something that separates biomass boilers from heaters—you don’t just flip a switch to make heat with biomass. “You need to allow time for ramp up, with time for the fuel to burn, plus labor and upkeep,” Elkins says. “It isn’t just turning on the oil or gas and going home.”
Even with the learning curves and adjustments, there’s no question for the Pleasant View team: It would do it all over again. At Pembroke, the operation has gone from a nearly $1 million heating bill to approximately $171,000 for wood chips. The Loudon location’s bill makes an even stronger impression: just $126,000 annually, also down from nearly $1 million. (Future upgrades to screening and conveying at Pembroke will allow Pleasant View to burn whole tree chips to bring that bill more in line with Loudon.)
Only six small Quonset propagation houses at Pleasant View still get heated with oil, and they’re on track for replacement with a larger gutter-connected house tied into the new system.
So once the operation’s oil use is virtually nothing, what’s the next sustainability target? “We just signed on with MPS, and we’re looking at all processes,” Huntington says.
The customer service department went paperless two years ago. Huntington would like to go 100 percent paperless in the near future. And after that? “Water is our next long-term sustainability effort,” he says, “to eliminate runoff, recycle and try to conserve that resource.”
With the results Pleasant View has seen from biomass, it’s no wonder the operation is looking to the next horizon. “We almost don’t mind seeing oil go up because we know we’re getting a better payback on our systems,” Huntington says.