Gilpin County’s Bioenergy Day

County facilities to use 100% wind-generated electricity

By Jaclyn Schrock

A celebration of the 7th Annual Bioenergy Day took place with biomass tours and alternative energy information tables on Wednesday, October 23, from 1-3 p.m. at the Maintenance Facility, 255 Braecher Park Road, mid-Gilpin County behind the transfer station.

Gilpin County celebrates our efforts to be ecologically friendly each year with Bioenergy Day. This year, green friends gathered for the healthy sandwiches, chips, fruit and beverages served with eco-friendly containers and recycling receptacles for any waste.

Casual conversation covered many topics: community resources, solar collectors and energy used behind the meter, the Off Grid Expo earlier in October at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, and other local opportunities to be earth-friendly.

Excel Energy and United Power had tables set up to offer information about renewable energy and efficiency in our homes. Both companies have green programs for electricity users. Residential solar programs can send extra power you don’t use down the line for a rebate on your bill. By selecting a program that applies your utility bill towards wind power, you are supporting renewable energy sources.

At the 2019 Bioenergy Day, the commissioners announced that Gilpin County’s government facilities will be powered by 100% wind generated electricity by January 2020!

The Courthouse in Central City uses Excel Energy so is now enrolled in their green program to support renewable energy through investing in wind power.

Gilpin County government buildings have selected to be United Power Green Power Partners by purchasing 100 Kilowatt-hour blocks, which is invested in renewable power. Residential United Power users can do the same at

On display in the warm maintenance garage were the four new hybrid cars added to the county fleet about six weeks ago. Keith McNeil, Gilpin County mechanic, researched which vehicles to purchase when the commissioners requested vehicles with lower emissions.

These Toyota Hybrid cars were selected as being most useful in our cold mountain terrain equipped with a Tesla battery. Batteries used in other vehicles quickly lose their charge in the cold. These hybrids have a duel gas and electric power system that work together. It does not get plugged in to recharge the battery. When the car goes downhill, the battery is charging. Having the efficient gas engine when needed, and recharging the battery when gas runs the engine, it is indeed a smart car.

Load, chip, store, load, burn

Tom Dellinger, operator for Public Works, gave a tour on the process used to turn the trees into chips burned in the biomass. Trees from fire mitigation, beetle kill, and local venders who bring dead trees to the yard, earn them $38 a ton.

As needed, trees are loaded in the chipper. Gilpin’s chipper is designed to hold trunks that are up to two feet in diameter and 24 feet long, larger than most other chippers can handle. There are various sized screens used to filter out the chips. Chips burned in the biomass furnace fit through the three inch square openings. These chips are stored at the rear side of the Maintenance Facility, near the biomass unit. The storage building currently held about enough chips to refill the burning hopper two more times. A front-end loader is used to load the chips into the burning hopper, inside the Maintenance Facility.

Gilpin’s Biomass System 

Dirk Matthews, Gilpin County Maintenance Supervisor and Project Manager, provided tours of the operations with detailed information on the biomass system. Beginning near the offices at one end of the building tours went through doors to the biomass burner. Tours moved past the water pipes, gas back up furnace, electronic pumps and zone monitors to the back of the building where the chips wait to be burned.

The storage hopper is at ground level, as is the whole building. An auger draws the chips to a small basement level with a conveyer belt that moves all the chips toward one side of the space. At this end a belted elevating system bring the chips into a holding box that has two small windows. When a sensor in the windows can recognize no chips between the windows the automatic feeder draws up more chips from the hopper.

What is Biomass?

Biomass is any fuel source that is organic, plant or even waste material that was once living. Most definitions talk of the organism transferring of energy from the sun and stored in plant material. We often recognize the heat is released from energy stored in wood when burned.

Until the late 1800’s 90% of heating energy came from biomass, or plants. Now, 4% of heating comes from biomass.

Gilpin County Road and Bridge Department has been housed in a Biomass heated maintenance facility, since 2007. When constructed the county made every effort to be as biologically friendly as possible. The $224K extra it took to construct the biomass/natural gas radiant heating of the 22,000 square foot facility saves the county $30,000 annually in costs of heating fuel, man-hours, maintenance, and backup systems.

Gilpin County’s maintenance facility gets 75-80% of the fuel used to heat water for the radiant floor heating system and warm the fresh air exchange, not from solar, gas or electric, but from biomass. Our local dead trees are chipped to fit through a 3 inch screen, and fed by a auger system into a biomass burner. The remaining heat source is natural gas, as a supplementary system and backup system.



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