Local Partnership Brings Energy Solutions

The woodchip boiler. All photos by Mark Apted

When the price per litre for LPG gas went up from 30 to 55 pence over the course of just one year, Centre Head Antonio Autor, and Trustee Derek Hook knew something had to be done. Heating bills for the Krishnamurti Centre were in excess of £36,000 per year! Meanwhile a long-time neighbour, Mr Alex Morton, had begun to manage his 150 acres of local woodlands in a sustainable way and had started a woodchip business. So the solution for the Centre was an obvious one involving a neighbourly agreement.

Getting the chip from the storage shed
The Krishnamurti Centre built and commissioned a wood fired boiler that meets all of its heating needs with the chip provided by Mr Morton.It has turned out to be a good partnership. Already the Centre is seeing savings of about £15,000 a year, which could go up to £30,000 if it qualifies for the government’s Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme. In that case heating costs could be as little as £6,000.

Furthermore, because we purchase the woodchips from our neighbour we indirectly assist with the proper management of surrounding woodlands. All of the woodchip comes from trees that grew within one kilometre of Brockwood and the chip is delivered directly by tractor from Mr Morton’s storage facility. These measures have helped us reduce our CO2 footprint and support the local economy and community.

Mr Alex Morton in front of the drying logs
The Mortons (including Alex’s brother, Matthew, and sister, Caroline) and the Krishnamurti Foundation Trust have been neighbours for over forty years. The KFT bought Brockwood in 1969 from Mr Morton’s father, who had acquired the farm, woodlands, and estate from Lord Chesham in 1968. Mr. Morton now runs the woodlands while his brother and sister manage surrounding farmland and properties.

The woodlands around Brockwood are all ancient and semi-natural, which means that they have been woodlands for as long as is known and managed by humans for hundreds of years. By burning local wood to heat the Krishnamurti Centre we are continuing an old tradition. After all, for close to two hundred years the original house at Brockwood, built in 1769, was heated with local firewood from these very same woods.

The chip comes from the woods in the background

With local soil around Brockwood ranging from clay at the top of the hills, to chalk on the slopes and gravel in the valleys you can find many different hardwood and softwood varieties of tree. The woodchip used to heat the Krishnamurti Centre comes from Ash, Sycamore, Oak, Beech, Chestnut, and Hazel and Ash coppice. It is harvested from February to October, when the soil is not too wet so as not to damage it.

Some of the wood comes from ‘wind-blow’, some from thinning, and some from ‘coup creating’, which involves creating small clearings to let in light in order to allow all the seeds which are already in the ground to spring up. This young growth then has to be protected from deer and other animals until large enough to survive.

The timber trailer

The wood is then loaded onto a timber-trailer and moved close-by to the storage facility. It is covered to protect it from the rain and allowed to dry. Once a year a huge wood-chipper is brought to the farm. At 50 tons an hour (!) it takes a whole day to chip enough wood to last the Krishnamurti Centre and Mr. Morton’s farm, also heated by a woodchip boiler, for a year. It is stored in a large shed and every week about 15 cubic metres of chip are delivered to the Centre by tractor. To power its boiler in the winter the Centre burns around 60 cubic metres of chip a month, which comes down to 2 cubic metres a day—some 600 kilos worth of chip.

Centre boiler shed opened

The boiler is housed in a shed designed by architect Mike Davies, who is currently the construction manager of the Pavilions. According to Mr Davies the requirements for the boiler dictated the design of the building. He worked closely with Rural Energy, the company that installed the boiler, at the recommendation of Trustee Derek Hook, who installed a similar woodchip boiler in his Lake District B&B, Yewfield. It is a 150 kW boiler and there is an 85 kW back-up gas boiler, which is used once a week for an hour to keep it in working condition. The woodchip is pulled into the boiler automatically by an auger, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Managing his woodlands is a passion for Mr Morton and his goal is to facilitate as much natural regeneration as possible in order to get many different species of native trees to grow in the woodlands. Recent Forestry Commission inspections confirmed that, after several years of restoring the woodlands, they are now in excellent shape with increasing biodiversity. Mr Morton’s partnership with the Krishnamurti Centre helps him meet his goal.

Logs from the local woodlands

As Mr Morton points out, there are many benefits to this partnership: both he and the Centre are reducing heating bills. The woodchip business, supported by a government incentive, is also providing the necessary impetus to properly manage the woodlands, which results in diverse forests with healthy ecosystems and increased biodiversity. But there are also economic implications: the money stays locally and supports local jobs. Perhaps the biggest impact lies in the fact that our energy no longer comes from far-flung places like the Middle East or Russia, but from the forests that surround us. Brockwood has thus taken a small step towards energy independence.

The boiler

Our hope is to be able to install a woodchip burner for the School as well. Mr Morton reckons he will be able to deliver the additional chip required from his existing woodlands. The cost for such an investment may well be between £300,000 and £500,000 since it will include replacing some of the old pipes within the School. But with annual heating costs for the School exceeding £60,000 and rising, the benefits, both in savings and impact on the environment, will far outweigh the costs.