Energy upgrades to benefit Caribou schools

Posted Feb. 23, 2010, at 11:14 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:33 a.m.

CARIBOU, Maine — An Aroostook County school unit is set to become greener and save a significant amount of money on energy now that it plans to construct a new biomass boiler plant and perform other upgrades at Caribou schools.

Officials at Eastern Aroostook RSU 39 announced news of the $2.8 million energy-saving infrastructure upgrades Tuesday morning. Scheduled for completion in October 2010, the upgrades will reduce energy costs, replace aging equipment and improve indoor air quality.

The upgrades are expected to save $250,000 annually. Savings also will be enhanced by one-time incentives from Efficiency Maine totaling $11,131.

More than 150,000 square feet of space at Caribou High School and the Caribou Technology Center will be renovated to create the plant, which will use a boiler that will depend on wood chips instead of fuel oil.

Once established, the new wood chip boiler is expected to save more than 84,000 kilowatt-hours of energy and 71,000 gallons of fuel. The wood boiler, which will serve the high school and the technology center, will burn wood chips obtained locally to produce more efficient and less expensive energy than the oil-burning boiler it replaces. It will account for 78 percent of the overall project’s energy savings.

Additional work at the high school will include installation of low-flow toilets and fixtures to conserve water and new high-efficiency ventilators, lights and lighting controls to enhance the learning environment and reduce energy costs. New controls for the walk-in cooler and the walk-in freezer will be installed to improve refrigeration efficiency and provide a longer system life.

The RSU serves more than 1,700 students from Caribou, Limestone and Stockholm in five schools and the Caribou Technology Center. Residents in the RSU will see no new taxes as a result of the upgrades.

The renovations will be funded by a performance contract, a state model that allows schools to use future energy and operational savings to finance infrastructure improvement projects.

Superintendent Frank McElwain said Tuesday the RSU got a lease-type loan to pay for the project.

“Each year, the money that we normally would have spent on energy will go toward the loan,” he said.

He said school officials are excited to make the changes, remarking that the upgrades improve the teaching and learning experience, while saving money and helping the environment.

“It’s even better that the district can accomplish this without any new taxes,” he added.

The RSU is working with Trane, an energy services company with offices in the United States and Canada, on the upgrades.

Brent Dudley, manager of energy services for Trane, said an energy audit was conducted of buildings in the RSU to find areas for energy conservation. The school decided the upgrades should include the new biomass boiler plant.

“This is going to greatly reduce the amount of fuel oil that the Caribou RSU uses,” Dudley said Tuesday. “The district is going to see long-term savings from the wood chip boiler.”

Chris Marshall, Trane’s general manager of comprehensive solutions, said the upgrades also would improve classroom conditions.

“Now, the classrooms will be well-ventilated, so there won’t be [any] rooms that are too stuffy or too hot,” he said.

Both Dudley and Marshall credited the Caribou RSU with making the energy improvements during tough economic times.

“This is going to create a very efficient environment within that district,” Marshall added.

Energy management and computer network controls will be added throughout the buildings to monitor energy consumption.

McElwain said that RSU officials are looking at other school buildings to see what energy savings techniques could be implemented at each site.