Southern Oregon University officials hope a $250,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study the potential for a 1.2 megawatt woody biomass cogeneration facility on the campus will lead to the real thing.

Southern Oregon University officials hope a $250,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study the potential for a 1.2 megawatt woody biomass cogeneration facility on the campus will lead to the real thing.

Such a power plant could meet 100 percent of SOU's current electrical need as well as 70 percent of its heating demand, officials said.

"SOU is strongly committed to environmental sustainability," university President Mary Cullinan said in a prepared statement. "Our plan is to make the campus climate neutral by 2050, so biomass may be one option for us."

The grant award announced Wednesday comes at a perfect time, said Drew Gilliland, SOU's facilities management and planning director.

"Two of our four steam heat boilers are nearing the end of their useful life," he said. "If we were to make this change, the remaining two boilers would be converted to back up heat generation when needed."

Basically, the grant will pay for a study to determine the feasibility of using slash and other byproducts from nearby forests, wood pellets or other biomass fuel to generate heat and electricity on the Ashland campus. It will also confirm whether the recommended system will meet Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and other regulatory agency requirements, officials said.

The grant was included in the $1.3 million in grants the department announced for wood-energy projects in the Pacific Northwest to help expand regional economies and create new jobs.

All six projects in Oregon and Washington will use woody material such as beetle-killed trees removed from forests to aid in wildfire prevention, according to the department. The material will then be processed in bioenergy facilities to produce green energy for heating and electricity, it added.

"The Forest Service works in more than 7,000 communities across the country to support projects that provide green jobs and boost local economies," observed USDA Deputy Under Secretary Butch Blazer. "These grants continue our legacy of improving access to affordable energy for rural schools, community centers, universities and small businesses."

— Paul Fattig