The USDA Forest Service’s Fuels for Schools and Beyond program promotes and encourages the use biomass to energy as a renewable and natural resource.
Recently the U.S. Forest Service recognized the Darby School District in Montana for success in the Fuels for Schools Program for their innovation, cost savings and energy efficiency and in particular Darby High School’s biomass system. It’s part of a pilot program funded by a grant from the Forest Service’s National Fire Plan. In 2003, the Darby School District was the first in the state to have a biomass system.
Since installing the biomass boiler the program has provided significant savings – up to $200,000 this past year alone helping the school system meet its yearly budget requirements.
Because Darby High School has successfully demonstrated the use of forest biomass as a renewable energy source, other regions in the West have used the Darby boiler system as a best practice example.
Burning wood is considered “carbon neutral” because, as trees grow, they pull carbon out of the atmosphere and when they die, decompose, or are burned they release that same amount of carbon. With this, there is no net gain of CO2 in the atmosphere and growing plants and trees will continue to cycle that CO2. Compare this to the burning of fossil fuels like petroleum and natural gas, which release old carbon that has been deep in the earth for millions of years, creating a carbon imbalance in the atmosphere which contributes to global warming.
By promoting and developing the utilization of forest biomass for energy, the Fuels for Schools and Beyond program achieves several goals in the national interest:
- Strengthens local economies.
- Reduces national dependency on foreign oil and non-renewable fossil fuels.
- Reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
- Provides financial incentives for treating hazardous fuels by creating markets for otherwise wasted woody material.
- Encourages community engagement in national forest management.
- Reduces and stabilizes heating costs for public facilities.
- Reduces air pollution from open-pile slash burning.