Millinocket boiler plan could have $250,000 hitch

Posted Dec. 18, 2009, at 12:31 a.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:08 p.m.

MILLINOCKET, Maine — School officials still plan to buy an ecofriendly biomass boiler system to heat and possibly power two town schools for $763,000, but problems might add $250,000 to the price tag, officials said.

School maintenance officials told Millinocket School Committee members during a meeting Tuesday that incompatibility between the old heating system at Stearns High School and the new system provided by RE-Gen LLC of Rockport would force the replacement of 24 classroom heating units, committee member Arnold Hopkins said.

“It seems that some of our old high school wings are on steam power,” Hopkins said Wednesday. “With the new system we would have to go with a hot water boiler. We thought we could run hot water through the old heating units, but we can’t.”

School officials are working with engineers from Honeywell and RE-Gen to see exactly how much the new modifications would cost, and they hope to meet soon with the Town Council to discuss the issue, Hopkins said.

Councilors and school officials support updating the heating systems at Stearns and the interconnected Millinocket Middle School to take advantage of projected cost savings and support RE-Gen.

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

As of this week, RE-Gen and Uniconfort were finishing their distribution agreement, company officials said. Furnace distribution likely will begin early next 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.

Even with the built-in savings, the additional $250,000 cost is “a lot of money,” Hopkins said. “We have to weigh the thing carefully as to what kind of payback we get and then see where we are.”

Michael Kevin Lynch, chief marketing officer for RE-Gen, said school and company officials are still working out the engineering issues with the boiler retrofit. He anticipated that the company’s net bill for the system would fluctuate depending on the issues found.

The school system and company also are trying to meet a Jan. 5 deadline on a state grant program that pays some municipal and school costs for successfully converting to environmentally or economically advantageous wood-to-energy systems, Lynch said.

“Now it’s in the town’s court as to the next step in terms of the grant application, which we are helping them with,” Lynch said Wednesday.

RE-Gen hopes that the new schools’ boiler system will be a showpiece for the company’s offerings and its Millinocket factory, Lynch said.

nsambides@bangordailynews.net

794-8215

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