Wisconsin hospital's renewable energy push brings the green

Elizabeth Baier
MPR News
June 1, 2015
 
The semitrailer backing up to the Gundersen Health System building is packed with material vital to the hospital's success. But these aren't medical supplies. They're wood chips.
 
After some maneuvering, the driver unlocks the truck's back doors and thousands of 2-inch wood chips from six mills around western Wisconsin, southeast Minnesota and northeast Iowa pour into a giant concrete pit. When full, the pit holds 75 tons of wood.
 
As the sweet smells of freshly cut birch, oak and maple fill the air, Jeff Rich, the hospital's point man on renewable energy, explains what drove Gundersen to become the nation's first energy independent hospital.
 
"We save about $500,000 a year on this project and reduce electricity costs and heating benefit," he says of the wood-powered boiler that generates steam to heat buildings, dehumidify air and sanitize medical equipment, as well as electricity to power the downtown La Crosse clinic.