April 23, 2018
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Jackson Lab starts wood pellet project

By Bill Trotter, BDN Staff

BAR HARBOR, Maine — Mice have long been the focus of an 81-year-old local biomedical research facility, but wood pellets were not far behind in the minds of people who had gathered Monday for the laboratory’s latest project.

Officials with The Jackson Laboratory said the $4.4 million project is expected to result in the largest wood pellet boiler in the country. The project, funded in part by a $1 million grant from Efficiency Maine Trust, is expected to result in a $22 million investment in Maine’s economy over the next 10 years, lab officials said Monday.

John Fitzgerald, senior director of facilities services for the lab, said the boiler would help the lab save money on heating and electricity costs. The pellet-fired steam boiler is expected to reduce the lab’s heating costs by $700,000 a year and its electricity costs by $200,000 a year, he said.

“Energy is one of the biggest things we need to overcome,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s a huge cost of doing business.”

What the lab saves in energy costs will have a secondary benefit to the lab, too, by being invested in the lab’s nonprofit research mission, he added. The lab itself is paying for the remaining $3 million of the energy facility’s construction costs.

The investment of $22 million over 10 years represents not just the construction project, which is expected to be completed sometime next spring, but the purchase of wood pellets made in the state, according to lab officials. At full firing rate, the burner is expected to burn through 60 tons of pellets in one day, which is enough to heat 400 Maine homes in the winter, they indicated.

At the same time, the project is expected to provide many environmental benefits as well, lab officials said. By using Maine-made wood pellets, the lab is tapping into a renewable resource and is reducing the amount of carbon emissions it generates.

Use of wood pellets will offset the annual consumption of 1.2 million gallons of fuel oil, which in turn will prevent 13,000 tons of carbon dioxide from being pumped into the atmosphere each year.

Norman Burdzel, facilities engineer for the lab, said it is important for the lab to operate sustainably and to cooperate with the environmental mission of its biggest abutting landowner, Acadia National Park.

“It’s great for the lab and great for the state of Maine,” Burdzel said, referring to the boiler project. “It’s really going to make our operations better.”

Mike Stoddard, director of Efficiency Maine Trust, said his organization was able to provide $1 million toward the project with the help of federal stimulus funds and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. He said the project will benefit other power users in Maine by decreasing the need for grid upgrades, which should help hold down costs for electricity ratepayers.

“We want to bring down people’s energy costs down around the board,” Stoddard said.

The construction project itself will have benefits for Maine’s business community, lab officials said. Pizzagalli, a construction firm based in Burlington, Vt., and with offices in Portland, will serve as general contractor and several Maine-based companies will work as subcontractors on the project, they said. The boiler is being manufactured by Swedish firm Petrokraft AB.

Jackson Lab, which had $166 million in operating revenue in 2009, is known internationally for its use of mice to research human disease and medical conditions. Each year, it breeds millions of specially bred laboratory mice that are used in similar studies all over the world. With nearly 1,200 employees at its Bar Harbor campus, Jackson Lab is the largest employer in eastern Maine.

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