Canada takes the skids….

Today it was announced that Canada is in a recession.  With four consecutive months of not just stagnant growth but rather contractionary economic activity (albeit in the tens of percentage) they are now official.  One major contributing factor being noted is  the ‘halving’ of oil prices in the last year.  With much activity in the western provinces, Canada actually ranks fifth in the world as far as oil producing nations. The U.S. is third with Russia being first.  The only Middle East nation in the world’s top 5 is Saudi Arabia (right after Russia).

Thus combined, North America produces just over one fifth of the world’s production when looking at Mexico, U.S. and Canada’s contributions.  It is within 4% of world production put out by the Middle East’s top 5 (Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran the under embargo, Kuwait, and Emirates).   Production prices, China’s unmet demand amidst it’s own large production quantity (fourth world producer), geopolitical barriers and distribution obviously play a part on who can tweet the world scales when it comes to the price of oil.  Yet in raw output terms, North America and the Middle East account for almost half of the world’s production with the former being quite a strong block on the world scene.  Considering the early-mid 1970’s market position of North America, this is nothing to sneeze at!

Leaves are turning yellow, temps are falling below freezing…. what will you heat with?

Hate to say it, yet the snow has fallen several inches up at a village north of Fairbanks. And the fireweed is gone, the cranberries biting smell lingers in the woods – plus the leaves are turning yellow.  Time to tune up the forced air furnace or sweep the smoke stack on your wood stove.  This might be a good time to ask what changes in fuel markets may have in store for you….

WHAT ARE YOU going to heat with this soon to come winter? Stay with the same fuels? With the environmental factors indicating that winter may be breathing down our necks (word on the local street is that it will be a relatively warm yet long, winter) – and with dividends coming out at roughly $2k each man women and child in a month this may be a good time to think of what you want to burn.  While there is the possibility of partially switching to solar with thermal storage, invest in a ground source heat system,  or possibly stick up an air turbine, most people I know of are looking at that dividend thinking- ‘NOW I can fill the oil tank/wood rack’.

Commodity oil was $54/barrel today (depending on the type) which still puts local heating oil prices in the range after a half year decline in price to roughly be about par cost wise of energy/BTU’s dry wood (satisfactorily processed and delivered to the home for combustion use). It is true that coal bought in town is still the best BTU value per dollar, and some people may be thinking of switching to natural gas when it comes down the Haul Road in a few years with estimates according to the Interior Gas Utility (IGU) and thus decide to remain with whatever heating appliance they have.  Yet even while spillage and contaminated soil is always a possibility with #1 or #2 heating oil, many like the fact that it flows and requires no work once delivered by a retail vender- as well as the benefit of combusting relatively uniformly and in a clean manner.

Anyway, regardless of what fuel you prefer, the cost of BTU’s from oil or wood has roughly equaled out after about a half decade of wood being king (commodity cost wise). Take a look in light of the changing pricing landscape, make some calls and see in the next couple week what you want to burn through the winter- because thinking about it in a couple weeks may be a very cold prospect. –

Gasifying woods for foods.


To address the need for lettuce and leafy vegetables in the rural areas a couple of projects have come about to grow in connex containers and step vans.  The idea is to grow with high spectrum LED lighting so that the electrical use is minimal for simulating daylight.  For heat, the choice on the units are biomass/wood burners which capture the gasses from the wood and burn them.

If there is plenty of small, dry wood around it may be an efficient way to promote dedicated space heat for food.  It may be that there are ways also with these heaters to work with hydroponic growth.  Insulating and venting obviously are items that need to be worked in to any large container.  These may be ways to promote economic development as well as food security with cheaper vegetables throughout Alaska.  If you are interested in learning more of the case study projects, please call Art at 322-2309 and I can give you further info/contacts.

Here come the fall winds…..

Forecasts are calling for heavy rains (possibly snow up high) and winds today (see Do you remember the fall of 2014 when high winds with wet ice knocked out the powerlines for as many as 3 days for some residents? And that was close to Fairbanks- not just in the far off areas.   It could happen again, and if it does, do you have a generator supply for your heat source, refrigerator and well pump (if you have one) at the very least?

Last event almost 2 years ago the temperatures outside were around 20 degrees, so homes did not freeze up quickly.  But temperate fall reminders like these events beg  a homeowner to ask- do I have a 72 hour kit for food, medical, energy source and other supplies in case I am disconnected from the electric or have to relocate due to a disaster for 3 days (at least)?

Cooperative Extension has a list of items you can check your storehouse to see if you have the goods.  Call Art at 322-2309 if you’d like one emailed or faxed to you (until we can load it up on the site!),

Appreciated- Art

Gas in Fairbanks…..

Today there was a debrief of the condition of the IGU project, which is aimed at distributing residential and commercial natural gas throughout Fairbanks (once it comes down in trucks from the North Slope). The total cost on labor is estimated at 1.3m and construction at 16.8m dollars.  There are 3 phases to the project, and the pride currently (phase 1) is that they have completed 60K man-hours of work injury free!

Three regions have been getting laid out this construction season and the second will hopefully happen next summer.  Determinations by Oct. 1 involving AIDEA (state entity looking after energy projects) will help planners know whether they can jump into phase 2 then; this would involve digging into Hurst Road area or Chena Ridge possibly.

The third phase is not being looked at closely at this point as there are “many moving parts”.  There will certainly be more in the news as things progress to bring affordable gas into Fairbanks- and to get it into folks’ homes.


Oil for the winter?

Today, being Monday, there was anticipation to see whether the stock and commodity (oil in particular) markets would begin an upward trend; it is not to be.  Oil is now $38 a barrel and all things remaining the same, it will most likely not go up anytime soon.  It is popularly believed that  the Saudi’s began a production glut in the fall that will take time to ‘soak up’. Along this line of thinking,  some point to that evidence that 10.6 million barrels per day are being produced by Saudi Arabia in an attempt to increase its producer share in OPEC.  However, being that global demand for Chinese exports have declined, it is highly likely that the drop in oil commodities is due to over supply in the wake of a downturn in the Chinese economy (thus slowing down its production to push out more exports-yet it is hard to point to hard evidence as China is not transparent about its economic data).

At any case with the current price of oil, home heating oil (#2) is running $2.42/gallon if you pick it up in downtown Fairbanks yourself.  At ~138,500 BTUs per gallon, it takes about 120 gallons to equal a cord of White or Sitka Spruce (at 18.1 million BTUs per cord if given a 20% moisture content).  So, at today’s price heating with #2 oil (not counting the different efficiency ratings of oil furnaces and wood stoves) you would spent $316.25 on that oil for the same amount of BTUs for White Spruce (in a cord). You could look at other factors, such as Birch giving you around 25% more BTUs than White Spruce, the cost of split/delivered wood, cost to deliver the fuel oil to your home, using kerosene instead of #2 diesel for better fluidity in cold weather, etc……Yet  the upshot is that if you look at the wood free market pricing as it is reflected on Craigslist and the major wood vendor in the Tanana Valley you can spend right around $300 a cord for Spruce wood, or you can spend around $300 for oil at the present.

So, which will you choose?  Some care- beyond the dollars- about the smell and even ambiance as their fuel burns.  Others concerned about carbon emissions may favor the wood  (as ‘carbon neutral’), while yet others concerned about the Fairbanks/NorthPole air quality in light of emission problems during cold weather inversions may favor oil.  And some folks naturally like to sit back and let the flow of the liquid ‘stoke the fire’ with ease (as opposed to the work in stoking the wood boiler…).

Keep an eye on the prices of these two competing fuels- compare them throughout the winter.  And then the question for many who may want to transition may naturally be, “what capital costs will I have to sink in to converting my current system if I want to try a new fuel”….   For that, the blog will have to wait for another post!

Energy prices tumble at the end of a declining week

Finally oil has gone below the $40/barrel price. Gas is estimated at $1.45/gallon (not at your pump) and the supply continues to increase. OPEC doesn’t show any intention of slowing it’s supply into the market, China is demanding less, and the U.S. added two more drill rigs this week.  The lows are taking us back to over 70 months, and the question is if the rest of the economy- the American, let alone the Alaskan- can continue to add wells justified by further efficiencies from particular sites in this glut.  It has been said that it takes the markets to recover in quarters rather than months from bruises of oversupply.  We shall see….does this mean substitute products for space heating (but primarily transportation markets) will need to search for their own efficiencies and prioritizing production sites to stay as competitive? It has been a boon in Alaska this summer for tourism in many places, yet when the seasonal demand drops what signals will that give to those handling the refinement and distribution of the oversupply?

This year’s Permanent Fund Dividends, being on a 5 year moving average, won’t show this glut yet near off years certainly will!

Rocket stoves explained…

One of the participants of a Greenhouse Heat workshop in Anchorage several weeks ago recently contacted me with an illustration he made about rocket stoves for the publication “Small Craft Advisor”.  (I think he saw how painful it was for me to draw ‘helicopter’ and ‘side’ views on a white board of these intricate 3D pieces of heating tech).  Here is his picture as illustrated: 8-12-15 Paint Can Rocket Stove.

Bob has certainly taken the stove to a new level with adaptations he’s experimented with.  This sharp poster really lays out visually the construction like the photos I began with about a year ago could not have (  These are good instructions for beginning, yet what is great about this class is that participants are often willing to innovate and make it a better product!  Watch this fall as we offer rocket stove construction classes with testing the emissions.  More to come….

Greenhouse heat -constructing thermal mass heater for extending your growing season

All are welcome to the thermal mass heater lecture and workshop in Valdez Aug. 7-9, 2015. Cooperative Extension Service will host a lecture Aug. 7 at Corbin Creek Farm about thermal mass heaters for greenhouses and a free weekend workshop Aug. 8-9, in which participants will build one. Extension Energy Specialist Art Nash and Jim Scott, a retired engineer from Talkeetna, will lead the events at the farm, which is located at 3042 Fairweather St., about 6 miles north of Valdez. The one-hour lecture will begin at 6 p.m. and will be immediately followed by a session in which participants will design one. Scott will explain how thermal mass heaters work, how they can be built and what conditions they operate best. The workshop will run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 8, and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 9. Nash said thermal mass heaters can be built with common scrap and easy-to-use materials, and they use wood biomass and gasification to provide and store heat. The heaters can extend the greenhouse season before breakup and after freezeup. For more information, contact Carmen Kloepfer at or 474-5854.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.