BUCKSPORT, Maine — Town officials are considering energy alternatives that could heat municipal buildings and businesses in the industrial park and produce electricity to cut the cost of power.
The town is actively studying the potential for wind, natural gas and wood in the hope that one or a combination of those fuels will provide a stable source of heat and power for the future.
“The key for municipal government in the future is going to be stabilizing our costs,” Town Manager Roger Raymond said Monday. “There is no room for big increases in our budgets and we’re going to need to learn to keep our budgets stable. One important component of that will be to manage our energy costs.”
According to Raymond, town councilors indicated they wanted a concerted effort to review all energy alternatives that might be available to the town to determine which are the most economical ways to provide for its energy needs.
Initial studies on wind power in the Miles Lane area did not turn up the results the town had hoped, but, Raymond said, they have not given up on wind power as a possible source of generating electricity that potentially could reduce power bills for the school buildings in town and for businesses in the nearby industrial park.
At Thursday’s meeting, councilors will review a proposal from a wind energy consulting firm to conduct a more detailed wind energy analysis in the Miles Lane area, which is close to the main power line into town. The proposal is written so that if the tests show favorable wind resources in the area, the town could use the com-pany to construct a wind project and administer it once it was operating.
“This is step one,” Raymond said. “If it’s not feasible, then we don’t have to do anything. If it is feasible, then we can take the next step.”
Natural gas has been a possibility for the town ever since the spur line was run from Maritimes Northeast pipeline in Orrington to the paper mill. A recent survey returned positive responses from 30 to 35 percent of the building owners in that built-up or compact area, but most of those interested were homeowners, Raymond said.
“There was a good amount of interest, but not a lot of square feet,” Raymond said.
In order to serve the town, Bangor Gas would need to make a significant capital investment to install a decompression facility before running lines into the compact area. Before they do that, Raymond said, they need to know they will have a “critical mass” of customers to make it worth the investment.
It seems likely that, for the plan to work, town buildings and school buildings will need to be on the gas line. The largest town-owned building is the Public Safety Building, but the most square footage, Raymond said, is in the school buildings, which, since consolidation, are now owned by Regional School Unit 25.
The town and RSU recently completed a joint energy audit that included a review of energy alternatives for the town and school buildings. The report from the audit is due soon and will figure into the discussion.
“We’ll make a decision once we have reviewed the report,” he said. “We don’t want to do it if it’s not a good alternative resource for heating those buildings.”
More recently, the town has been exploring the potential of a biomass project to provide enough hot water to heat town buildings and possibly buildings in the industrial park. The PUC has grant funds available for a feasibility study of a wood-fired facility and the state Department of Conservation also has funds available to develop that type of project.
According to Raymond, McCormick Management Services, the firm that conducted the energy audit, may have developed enough information to move directly to developing the project. The attractive feature of the boiler, he said, is that the facility can be adapted so that a steam-run turbine can be added in order to produce electricity.
Such a facility could help reduce energy costs at the town’s schools and office buildings and provide the potential for lower power costs for businesses in the industrial park. The availability of low-cost power could become an attractive economic development tool in a state and region where power costs are generally higher than the national average, Raymond said.
It is likely that the town will look at developing a mix of some or all of the alternative energy sources, along with oil, to provide for the town’s energy needs.
“I think you have to have a mix,” Raymond said. “Having the different options available can protect you against one of those sources spiking upwards, which could cause financial problems.”
The town is prepared to move quickly on any or all of the options if the studies show they are feasible, Raymond said.
“We have the resources to this,” he said. “We’re able to do one or all of these options.”
Depending on the results of the surveys, he said, one or more of the projects could be up and running before the end of the year.