From the community

Project aims to cut heating costs for homeowners and boost local economy through wood pellet sales: Incentive enables switch from oil to wood pellet boilers for participants in Farmington and Wilton

Posted June 19, 2013, at 5:06 p.m.

FARMINGTON – A new program is offering homeowners in Farmington and Wilton, Maine, the opportunity to save 40-50 percent on home heating costs by switching from oil heat to high efficiency wood pellet boilers. Municipalities and non-profits are also eligible to participate.

The Model Neighborhood Project’s goal is to help the Northern Forest region move away from dependence on imported oil toward a local energy source that will create jobs and strengthen the forest economy. Project partners are offering a financial subsidy of 30 percent (up to $6,000) toward the purchase and installation of a wood pellet boiler for qualified participants. Residents and community leaders are invited to an information session Thursday, June 27, at the Farmington Community Building at 5:30 pm.

The Maine Model Neighborhood Program builds on a similar project implemented in Berlin, NH by the Northern Forest Center (Center). The Center and Western Maine Community Action (WMCA) are partnering to bring the program to western Maine. A recent grant from the Efficiency Maine Trust from its Renewable Resources Fund helped jump start this fuel conversion program as a public demonstration project in Franklin County.

“This program should be really valuable to Farmington and Wilton residents,” said Bill Crandall, Housing and Energy Services program manager for WMCA. “Oil heat eats a sizeable portion of the average family’s budget. Switching to pellet boilers will reduce heating expenses and create demand for a local, renewable energy source. That will help create jobs in the forestry and heating sectors and will help return our region’s economy to one based on manufacturing forest products. Buying our energy locally is a sustainable way to support our Maine economy!”

The “model” neighborhood concept will create a geographic concentration of pellet boiler users and help develop the pellet delivery systems, installation and maintenance support that will make it easier for others to switch to pellet heating and allow the community to experience the convenience and savings of the high efficiency pellet boilers.

“I applaud the Center and WMCA for their initiative to bring affordable heat to rural Maine,” said Patrick C. Woodcock, director of the Governor’s Energy Office. “Thousands of households are desperate for affordable heating options and using modern wood heat can be a local option for the State of Maine.”

“Switching to pellets made from wood that is grown and processed in the Northern Forest keeps 100 percent of the money spent on this alternative fuel in the local and regional economy,” said Maura Adams, program director for the Northern Forest Center. “Conversely, nearly 80 cents of every dollar spent on imported heating oil leaves the local economy.”

The Model Neighborhood Project will help up to 25 homeowners, three community facilities and three affordable housing facilities convert from oil heating systems to wood pellet boilers over the next two years. The program will begin accepting applications June 27th with new boiler installations beginning in early fall.

Residential incentives will be available only to single-family residences or owner-occupied multi-unit buildings serving as primary residences in Farmington or Wilton, Maine. Selection of project participants will be based on criteria including diversity of housing stock, diversity of annual heating demands, suitability of space and existing heating infrastructure (chimney, circulation system, etc.), and willingness and ability of homeowners to represent their experience to others.

Participants will receive a free home energy audit and six hours of air-sealing work to improve their home’s energy efficiency, and may be eligible to take advantage of Efficiency Maine’s PACE or PowerSaver loans.

Interested homeowners are encouraged to attend the information session on June 27, 5:30 – 7:30 pm in the downstairs multi-purpose room of the Farmington Community Building, 126 Middle Street. Staff from the Center and WMCA will explain the program, and participating vendors will be on hand to display boilers and talk about how they work. Light refreshments will be served.

Participating homeowners in Berlin, N.H., experienced a 40-50 percent fuel savings, and every house that replaces 1,000 gallons of oil with wood pellets reduces its net carbon emissions by 14 tons per year.

“In Berlin, 36 homeowners and 2 non-profits have converted to wood pellet boilers,” said Adams. “They’re saving significantly on their heating bills. One participant said she laughs when the oil truck drives by! Farmington is a great fit for this program with its forest-products history and nearby pellet producers.”

Other benefits of the program include strengthening markets for low-grade wood, which provides a financial incentive to forestland owners to keep their forests intact, and opportunities to stabilize and increase employment in forest-based businesses.

Residents interested in participating in the program can complete an application at the information session June 27 or apply online at http://conta.cc/16bXF70. More information about the program is available at www.wmca.org or by contacting Bill Crandall, wcrandall@wmca.org, 207-860-4451 and online at www.northernforest.org/model_neighborhood_project.html.

Funding from the US Endowment for Forestry & Communities, Efficiency Maine Trust, Doree Taylor Foundation, and the Rural Jobs Accelerator Challenge of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration is supporting the expansion of the Model Neighborhood Project to Farmington and Wilton.

The Northern Forest Center is a nonprofit organization that advocates for the Northern Forest region of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York and helps its communities benefit from forest-based economic and conservation initiatives.

Western Maine Community Action is a social service agency that has been providing services for over 45 years to people living in the western mountain rgion of Maine. The organization is dedicated to the principle of promoting the self-sufficiency of people.

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