June 23, 2018
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Millinocket hospital saving money with new biomass boiler, using pellets made in Maine

By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff

MILLINOCKET, Maine — Wood pellets made in Maine will replace at least 60,000 gallons of No. 2 heating oil annually thanks to a new $478,000 biomass heating system installed at Millinocket Regional Hospital, officials said Thursday.

Half funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the pellet burner is expected to save $135,000 annually over 10 years while handling the hospital’s heat and hot-water needs.

“It does that easily. We have burned hardly any fuel since startup on Dec. 7,” said Dale McLaughlin, director of plant operations at MRH.

The Schmid Energy Solutions burner installation occurred over three months at what is for now the tail end of $3.1 million in hospital infrastructure improvements, hospital CEO Marie Vienneau said.

The burner is only the second of its kind in Maine, she said.

Millinocket Regional is believed to be the second hospital to convert to biomass heating, said Becky Schnur, director of communications at the Maine Hospital Association.

Northern Maine Medical Center of Fort Kent finished its conversion to a biomass boiler in mid-February, said Schnur, who cautioned that her organization does not track hospital alternative-energy conversions.

MRH’s infrastructure improvements included upgrades to the plumbing, heating and electrical wiring systems in the building. They are part of $12 million to $13 million in total improvements originally proposed in the hospital’s master plan in 2009, Vienneau said.

“There is actually more work to be done,” Vienneau said. “The renovations are part of our facility master plan, which would include renovations to our emergency department and inpatient unit. However we don’t have a schedule of moving forward with these renovations.

“We will want to get this renovation paid off before we start renovating the other units,” Vienneau said.

The 25-bed hospital’s wings haven’t been renovated since 1994, she said.

Millinocket Regional is a nonprofit critical-care facility that has operated since 1955. It serves the Katahdin region and is overseen by a 17-member board of directors, according to the hospital’s website, mrhme.org.

The boiler itself is made by a Swiss company, but Maine suppliers will proved its fuel. Unlike with petroleum products, which typically send as much as 76 cents of every dollar out of the country, pellet production keeps most of its monetary impact local, McLaughlin said.

Pellet prices aren’t expected to fluctuate like the cost of No. 2 heating oil, and the hospital pays for the pellets on a yearly contract, he said.

“In my opinion, [the cost of] pellets could go higher than [the cost of fuel] fuel and we would still be ahead of the game,” McLaughlin said. “The money would be here, with more people working here. We’re not giving money away to somebody just to sell you a product. Us buying pellets made in Maine puts us all to work. It makes for a stronger community.”

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