ANZÈRE It may not be the best-known destination in the Valais, but the 43-year old ski resort of Anzère is among the greenest, possessing one of Europe’s largest wood-pellet heating systems, after Denmark and Sweden. A similar heating facility for Le Brassus Bois SA was built in Le Sentier, Vaud in 2009. Local Swiss energy expert, Albert Bétrisey, and his German friend, Markus Mann, whose family has had an apartment in Anzère since it was built in 1970, launched the clean-energy project in 2010. Two years later they founded Chauffage Bois Energie Anzère and proudly announced that 40 village buildings with 600 apartments, plus three hotels and a wellness centre, were fully heated by burning wood pellets.
Chauffage Bois claims that its 6.3 megawatt burner has saved 1.3 million litres of fuel oil in the past two winters by burning pellets made of waste wood cuttings from Valaisan forests. A proposal is underway to extend service to the southern part of the village by 2014–15. The CHF 8.5-million facility located just outside Anzère village is the size of a family home. It features two 300,000-litre silos filled with granules (produced by Valpellets in Uvrier, near Sion), and fed into two boilers.
At a Renewable Energy Summit last September, wood biomass experts visited the Valais from neighbouring countries, the Czech Republic and Argentina to climb up to a newly equipped hut below the Bishorn peak, where they celebrated the delivery of ten tons of wood pellets. Mann remarked that not only does the Valais now host the largest centre for burning wood pellets, but “it can now also boast of possessing, with the Tracuit hut, central heating at the highest altitude”. The individual use of wood pellets as fuel has increased in recent years, but Anzère is the first Swiss village to heat its buildings with this type of clean, renewable fuel.
It is not yet know to what degree heat or electricity from wood pellets contributes to climate change. Some studies indicate that burning such forms of biomass releases large amounts of CO2, creating a carbon debt that can last for 20–25 years despite the overall net benefit. “With the rising price of oil, timber is now a competitive energy source,” said Bétrisey, adding that Switzerland can do even more. In Austria, he noted, 30% of heating comes from wood sources while in Switzerland it is only 7%, although “the proportion of forests is substantially identical”.