Millinocket eyes Rockport firm’s school furnace

Posted Sept. 29, 2009, at 11:45 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:12 p.m.

MILLINOCKET, Maine — Town leaders are enticed by a fledgling Rockport company’s proposal to showcase its biomass energy systems at Stearns High School and Granite Street School and save the schools about $190,000 annually, they said Tuesday.

The Town Council and Millinocket School Committee met with officials from RE-Gen LLC of Rockport for about two hours Monday at Stearns. The three formed a subcommittee to explore the idea, Town Manager Eugene Conlogue said.

“It’s a good proposal,” committee Chairman Thomas Malcolm said Tuesday. “We still have to look at it, but it looked like a win-win situation to me.”

“We have to put together the details of it now and see how it looks altogether on paper,” Conlogue said. “It’s just simply a very good project and it will save the school department a significant amount of money over time.”

RE-Gen plans to distribute environmentally friendly biomass gasification furnaces, designed by Uniconfort of Italy, from Rockport and eventually manufacture them at a $20 million factory it plans to build at the Huber Industrial Park in Millinocket.

Furnace distribution likely will begin later this year. The factory, if all goes well, will go on line in January 2011, company officials have said.

Using a decades-old European technology and having sold more than 2,000 units worldwide, Uniconfort produces furnaces that make steam by burning low-grade green waste-wood chips — made from tree tops and limbs — not used by Maine’s paper and pellet mills.

The furnaces also can make electricity, if certain components are added, and burn landfill wastes. They can generate 700,000 to 5 million Btu and as many as 10 megawatts of electricity, with proper components. That’s enough to electrify and heat schools, hospitals, subdivisions, and office and apartment buildings for at least 25 percent less than typical electric utility rates and heating with No. 2 heating oil would cost.

The furnaces typically pay for themselves within three years, according to uniconfort.com.

RE-Gen’s plan includes working through the town government to get a portion of $11.4 million in American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funds for wood-to-energy projects to pay for the furnace installation.

All Maine towns, public schools, hospitals, and state, county and tribal governments can submit “shovel-ready” proposals for grants, though preference will go to rural, depressed areas in Aroostook, Franklin, Hancock, Penobscot, Piscataquis, Somerset and Washington counties, officials have said.

“If we could get this grant, that would be great. If not, then we would have to go out for a bond,” Malcolm said.

When RE-Gen announced its school plans last week, Conlogue balked at including Granite Street. He wasn’t aware that RE-Gen was considering Granite and knew that some councilors advocate moving all students into a refurbished Stearns. That idea resurfaced Monday, Malcolm said.

Stearns could use a new heating system, Malcolm said. Two of its boilers date to the 1950s and 1960s. One is in very poor shape.

“We have been talking about it for years. We have to do something anyway, so this [RE-Gen’s plan] looks like a good solution,” Malcolm said.

Superintendent Sara Alberts, building and grounds supervisor Louis DiFrederico, Conlogue and Michael Lynch of RE-Gen will serve on the committee, Conlogue said.

nsambides@bangordailynews.net

794-8215

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