Waterville school cuts ribbon on wood pellet heater that will save $94,000 a year

Posted March 14, 2012, at 10:07 p.m.

WATERVILLE, Maine — Waterville Senior High School unveiled a new wood pellet boiler on Wednesday that will save an estimated $94,000 a year compared to using heating oil.

The school was one of 22 public buildings chosen through a grant from the Maine Forest Service for wood pellet and wood chip furnaces to lessen the dependence on foreign oil, and instead put that money into Maine’s economy while also cutting fuel bills.

“The big impact here is our reduction in fuel use,” said Jim Reny, facility director for Waterville public schools. “It costs $72 a ton delivered [for the wood pellets]. If you were buying oil, you’d be paying about $1.50 [per gallon for the same amount of fuel consumption]. We’re basically getting our heat for $2 less per gallon.”

The project also replaced the school’s backup boiler and windows.

The wood pellet boiler in Gardiner City Hall had its ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday morning.

So far, 13 of the 22 projects have been completed. Five of the buildings that have yet to be completed are in Aroostook County.

“We had 90 applicants,” said U.S. Forest Service Project Manager Rob Clark. “We only had enough funds to support 22.”

The U.S. Forest Service allocated $11.4 million to the Maine Forest Service, which in turn handed out grants to fund the 22 projects. In order to receive the grants, the municipalities had to match part of the grant.

“We ended up with about $31 million worth of financial activity,” said Tom Wood, senior planner of the Wood to Energy Program for the Maine Forest Service.

Clark explained that by promoting forestry products as a viable fuel option, Maine’s forests would benefit.

“It really boils down to this, our mission is keeping forests as forests,” he said. “This provides an opportunity for wood products that wasn’t there before. There’s markets for lumber, there’s markets for pulpwood. This is a new emerging market for energy. This provides land owners with a revenue source instead of converting their land to other uses [such as commercial development].”

It also keeps the money spent on fuel in Maine, said Wood.

“The superintendent writes a check for a dollar’s worth of oil. Eight-five cents has left the state before the ink is dry,” said Wood. “When you write a check for a dollar’s worth of pellets, it all stays home. Local landowners, local laborers, foresters, haulers, truckers — it’s all here. So that dollar circulates four or five times in the local economy. It makes a big difference opposed to 15 cents. That’s what really makes a difference in the long term.”

Wood said the total savings of the 22 facilities will be $3 million. Some of the buildings will earn the investment back very quickly.

“Some of the smaller projects, such as Poland School, are saving almost $117,000 a year on a project that costs $700,000,” Wood said. “Their turnaround is six years to have it paid off. It’s pretty remarkable.”

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