Sep 20, 2013 10:44 AM by Tara Oster - KAJ News

FEC making use of solar, biomass projects

COLUMBIA FALLS - Flathead Electric Co-op and Stoltze lumber have entered into a 20 year deal to supplement some of FEC's electricity with power generated from a new biomass boiler.

Tara Oster has the story of a couple of other projects the co-op is working on which could mean big things for power production in the future.

A new 2½ mega watt biomass-fueled generator at Stoltze Lumber can provide power to aboout 2,000 average sized homes.

The generator runs by burning chips, sawdust, and bark to create steam which is used in the process of drying lumber.

"But then it also will spin an electric turbine and it'll create electricity which we at Flathead Electric Co-op are going to purchase and then it'll get used out on the grid here in the Flathead Valley," explained Energy Services Supervisor Ross Holter.

The Co-op has been using some sources of renewable energy in recent years, with Holter saying that FEC pioneered a methane gas to electricity plant in Montana at the Flathead County Landfill in 2009.

"So kind of like Stoltze, what we're doing is we're taking something that was already being burned, and then we're running it through a big Caterpillar engine and creating electricity with that as well," he said.

Now some other areas in the state are also looking to create the same type of plant.

Another potentially huge development in power production could allow wind and solar energy to produce electricity around the clock.

"Wind and solar are great sources of renewable energy, but they're intermittent," Holter tol us.

Columbia Falls based VIZn will place a new energy storing battery at the Co-op for testing.

"They're going to monitor the battery as to how it works for charging and discharging, and get some real good data from that and see how that's going to work. It's really promising and really interesting technology," Holter told us.

He added that this development could be a game-changer in wind and solar energy. The Co-op is expecting they'll receive the battery and start testing within a few months.

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