As part of its bid to become the greenest county, Suffolk County Council has installed 20 wood-fired boilers in schools and offices. Its Wood Fuels programme now produces a total heat output of 3.2 megawatts (MW) at a saving of about 420 tonnes of CO2 each year. And the local biomass industry has created about 40 jobs.
Between 2006 and 2009, Suffolk County Council installed 20 wood-fired boilers in schools and offices. It also set up a supply chain to deliver and manufacture pellets and woodchips.
Suffolk provided some funding but most has come through grants from:
- the Low Carbon Buildings programme (LCBP)
- the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs' (Defra) Bio Energy Grant scheme
- the Department for Children Schools and Families' funding for schools - now the Department of Education.
Photograph on the right courtesy of the Ashden Awards
One of Suffolk's corporate priorities is to become the greenest county. Councillor Jane Storey explains:
"In 2007 we had a cross-party development panel which introduced the Environmental Action Plan. Every school that we build now has to be to the Building Research Establishment's 'excellent' accreditation and that includes using biomass and woodland fuel, preferably."
The Wood Fuel programme team works closely with planners from an early stage on all its biomass projects to avoid planning problems.
Air quality is not an issue as most of the biomass boilers are replacing oil boilers, which produce flue gas (the flue is the pipe or channel used by the boiler). Burning wood is cleaner and cheaper.
The council was ready to install biomass boilers in 2005 but had to wait another year because it did not know:
- where to source fuel
- who was going to deliver it or how
- how to ensure fuel was local
- what the quality of the fuel was going to be
- what the cost was going to be
- how to ensure the supply would be sustainable.
Initially, the council was buying pellets from Canada, Ireland and Eastern Europe. By working in partnership with local companies Suffolk developed a supply chain. There are now two Suffolk-based companies making pellets for council supply and delivering to other customers as well.
Most of the wood chips come from land the council manages. Contractors take the logs, store them, dry them out and chip them. When the wood chips are ready, the contractor delivers them back to council installations around the county. Suffolk also developed a fuel lorry that blows fuel into the storage silo.
Work out your supply chain before you take on a project like this.
Do things like bat searches before you plan so that you have time to prepare.
Involve planners on day one because they will help you. They can tell you exactly what information they need and:
- why they need it
- how best to represent it
- how best to demonstrate that you have thought about it.
Wood fuel boilers and solar water heating panels work very well together. On a sunny day, particularly during the summer, buildings may not need heating. The solar thermal panels can supply a low demand for hot water in a school.
Procurement savings can be made if there is a big enough continuity of work.
Work with the suppliers so they can manage their businesses sustainably. Supply cannot be done on a one-off contract basis or a yearly contract. Suffolk always looks for guarantees of quality and delivery rather than the lowest cost.
The Wood Fuels Programme has produced a total heat output of 3.2 megawatts (MW) at a saving of about 420 tonnes of CO2 each year.
Local wood-fuel producers have long-term contracts. This is a huge investment in the local economy.
Suffolk estimates that in East Anglia about 40 jobs have been created through the biomass wood fuel industry in the last three to four years.
Sarah Gallagher, Head Teacher of Rendlesham Primary School that was built with a biomass boiler, adds:
"When we set up the school what interested me was the teaching and learning aspects. I knew that we'd have a woodchip burner and that seemed a good thing for a modern school. It helps us when we talk about being eco - we have a garden and we talk about turning the lights off - so it fits in with that. I suppose it opens the children's eyes a little bit. It's a little window in."
Design, Sustainability and Access Manager
Suffolk County Council
Telephone: 01473 264141