PRESQUE ISLE — Shortly after the nation marked the first anniversary of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, Gov. John Baldacci announced that funding released under the law would finance numerous projects, including two in Aroostook County.
Six school and university oil-to-wood heating projects statewide will receive more than $3.2 million in federal Recovery Act funds. The energy grants will be managed by the Maine Forest Service, which is under the umbrella of the Maine Department of Conservation.
The six energy-conversion grants will go to five school systems and one University of Maine project, and will partially fund those projects, according to Maine Forest Service officials. The projects not only are expected to reduce dependency on fuel oil, but also to create new “green” jobs and to support Maine’s forest products industries.
In Aroostook County, the Presque Isle office of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension was awarded $16,575 for installation of a pellet boiler to replace the current oil boiler. The pellet boiler will displace approximately 1,850 gallons of fuel oil at the Presque Isle office. UMaine Extension’s Andrew Plant said the current boiler is around 10 years old, and the new boiler will “definitely save us some money.”
The office had to build a new boiler room before the wood pellet boiler could be installed. The estimated project cost is $40,169, and the remainder of the project will be funded by a grant from the Maine Economic Improvement Fund.
Regional School Unit 29 in Houlton was awarded $750,000 for conversion of an oil boiler to a wood chip boiler at Houlton High School. The boiler will heat the high school and the Southern Aroostook Vocational Education center next door. The wood chip boiler will displace 65,000 gallons of fuel oil. The district uses about 85,000 gallons of oil a year, according to the superintendent.
“This is really going to reduce our dependence on oil for these buildings,” Superintendent Steve Fitzpatrick said Friday. “This grant will not pay for the total $1.3 million project, but the cost savings that we will see because of this will pay for it over time.”
He said the district would not get rid of its oil boiler; it simply will rely primarily on the new boiler for heating purposes.
Fitzpatrick said that engineering work and plan development already have begun on the project. He hopes the new boiler will be in place by late spring or early fall.
The other funded sites were Oxford Hills High School, the Greenville School Department, Phillips Middle School and Poland Middle-High School.
The oil-to-wood grant concept was developed and proposed by the Maine Forest Service and approved for funding by the federal government. It was designed as a competitive grant process open in all Maine communities for state, county, local and tribal governmental buildings, as well as for school and hospital structures.
A total of $11.4 million was made available to the state for the grant. The Maine Forest Service called for proposals last October, and a total of 41 applications were received, according to Maine Forest Service officials. The awards are one-time funds and must be spent or committed within two years.
Another round of applications will be called for this spring and additional grants will be announced later this year.
Gov. John Baldacci said he was pleased to hear news of the awards.
“Maine has tremendous renewable natural resources,” said Baldacci. “It’s critical we put them to work to reduce our dependency on foreign oil and strengthen our economy. These grants help us to do that.”
Maine Forest Service Director Alec Giffen said the six funded projects “will annually avoid the burning of almost 263,000 gallons of oil, recirculate $600,000 in fuel dollars in the Maine economy, and avoid more than 5 million pounds of emissions from fossil fuels.”
The Recovery Act signed into law Feb. 17, 2009, by President Barack Obama provides $787 billion nationwide for a wide range of federal programs, including measures to modernize infrastructure, enhance energy independence, expand educational opportunities, preserve and improve affordable health care and provide tax relief.