Trees Lost To Emerald Ash Borer Are Now Heating Buildings In Boulder County

Nov 24, 2015

Wood infested with an invasive beetle is being used to heat some Boulder County buildings, including the jail.

The Emerald Ash Borer has been in Colorado for years now, but remained undetected until 2013, when it was found in the city of Boulder. So far, it’s the furthest point west that EAB has been detected, prompting a quarantine to keep Ash wood from leaving the county. No one has been able to stop or eradicate the EAB.

“The best way to get rid of [EAB infested wood] is to grind it up, and that’s the perfect size of material for us to use in our biomass boilers,” said Boulder County Open Space Resource Manager Therese Glowacki. “The quantity of wood that we ground is going to supply the jail with about two months worth of heat.”

The EAB infested logs are chipped before being burned in the two biomass boilers.
Credit Therese Glowacki / Boulder County

Biomass boilers use the thermal energy of burning wood chips to heat hot water in a closed system that then heats the air. Wood from forest thinning operations and from wildfire mitigation around homes up in the high country is typically used to fuel the county’s biomass boilers. The wood travels about 25 miles down to the boiler in Longmont or in Boulder.

Glowacki said an employee realized the EAB wood is kept just a mile away from the jail, so they decided to make some calls to see if they could reduce travel time and cost for everyone.

Boulder County has two biomass boilers, like this one.
Credit Therese Glowacki / Boulder County

“We partnered with Gilpin County, they have a biomass boiler just like ours and it’s about 10 miles from our sort yard in Nederland,” she said.“They are taking our wood and they are paying for the hauling so it’s going to their biomass boiler. It’s saving Gilpin County money, it’s saving Boulder County money and it’s saving the city of Boulder money by using this three way partnership.”

Entomologists and forestry specialists are predicting an inevitable spread of the beetle, turning thousands of Ash trees into a big headache for municipalities. Boulder’s solution is a way to both honor the quarantine and create a new resource - but is only for wood collected off of city or county property.

“This is a great way to be able to use wood that can’t be taken out of the county for a productive use, and that is heating our jail,” she said.“We have recently met with officials from the city of Fort Collins because they are interested in finding ways to use EAB wood. They are looking at using the biomass boiler system as well.”