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Sealaska, Viking Lumber Consider Wood Pellet Pact

Viking Lumber is joining forces with Sealaska Corp. to consider producing wood pellets, the alternative to fuel oil, for Southeast Alaskan residents.

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) -- Viking Lumber is joining forces with Sealaska Corp. to consider producing wood pellets for Southeast Alaska.

Viking and Sealaska have recently begun working together on the idea, and haven't yet decided what they'll offer or where it might be available. But they're looking at making the wood waste from Craig's lumber mills into pellets, briquettes or dry chips for use in boilers in residential and commercial markets.

The idea of an alternative to fuel oil is appealing to Southeast residents. They are facing an expected 30 percent increase in costs from last winter, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Sealaska CEO Chris McNeil said the first step is to find out if they can produce a product that makes economic sense.

Wood also is appealing because it is immediately usable, said Dan Parrent, wood products specialist for the Juneau Economic Development Council.

Earlier this year, the city of Craig put in a boiler that runs on sawmill waste to heat two schools and a municipal pool. That project -- partly funded by an earlier grant from the state -- may save $80,000 to $100,000 a year in heating costs and pay itself off in eight years.

Last year, Sealaska, Southeast's regional Alaska Native corporation, cut and sold about 50 million board-feet of timber from its own lands. That's half its production of two years ago, and Sealaska is angling for a land swap that would garner it more wood.

Parrent said making wood pellets or a similar product here might well be competitive.

"The cost to get pellets delivered to Southeast Alaska is more than the cost of the pellets themselves," he said.

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