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UMFK to take step toward energy independence with conversion to wood-to-energy heating system

Posted May 18, 2012, at 8:08 a.m.
Last modified May 18, 2012, at 10:20 a.m.

FORT KENT,  Maine – The University of Maine at Fort Kent will take a major step toward energy independence next week, when it dedicates its new, wood-to-energy heating system.

It is the first of two biomass systems that over the next two years will convert more than 90 percent of the campus from foreign heating oil to locally-sourced, renewable, biomass fuels.

The new biomass system, which will formally be placed into service next Thursday, May 24 during a morning ribbon-cutting ceremony, will heat the UMFK Sports Center athletic complex, and its largest residence hall, The Lodge.

It was one year ago that UMFK announced it had been awarded a grant of $500,000 through the state Department of Conservation, using federal stimulus funds. Now a reality, the alternative fuel system will provide heat for 1.75 acres of floor space and is expected to save the campus nearly $1 million in heating costs in the next decade.

In the year since announcing the wood-to-energy grant, UMFK has replaced one of two fuel oil boilers located in its Sports Center with a high-efficiency biomass boiler that will heat the Sports Center and The Lodge. Heat will be transferred to The Lodge by means of an underground distribution system.

One of the oil-fired boilers previously used at the Sports Center has been retained as a backup boiler for emergencies, during maintenance of the new system, and to supplement the new system during times of peak demand. One of the relatively new boilers from The Lodge will be moved to another campus facility to replace an older, less efficient unit.

The Sports Center and The Lodge consume, on average, more than 37,000 gallons of #2 heating oil, annually. UMFK expects to burn approximately 270 tons of wood pellets, annually, based on the energy conversion.

At current retail prices of $3.85 per gallon for heating oil, and $235 per ton for wood pellets, the University can expect to realize an annual savings of nearly $80,000 in heating costs. Projected over a ten-year period, and assuming additional savings for bulk deliveries, the savings would approach $1 million.

The new heating plant is multi-fuel, and is capable of burning various biomass products depending on price and availability. Two storage silos located in a storage bin adjacent to the facility’s boiler room will provide space for more than 60 tons of wood pellets.

An associated benefit of the conversion to the wood-to-energy boiler is a carbon reduction of approximately 375 tons per year, resulting from the decrease of heating oil burned. The carbon reduction represents nearly 30 percent of UMFK’s fossil carbon emissions associated with space and water heating, and more than 11 percent of all fossil carbon emissions, including those from electricity consumption, commuting, campus fleet, and travel for University business.

The American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, to which UMFK is a signatory, requires that the University reduce its fossil carbon footprint to zero by mid-century. This will be achieved through reductions in fossil fuel-based energy resources, demand reductions through conservation and efficiency improvements, and offsets through green energy credits and/or carbon sequestration.

Total cost of the project is $858,000, which includes $500,000 (58 percent) from the Wood to Energy grant; UMFK’s cash match of $318,000 (37 percent); and $40,000 (five percent) representing in-kind labor contributions.

The biomass project is a Public Building Wood to Energy Project, funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009; the economic stimulus package enacted by the United States Congress.

EDITORS NOTE:

Later this year, UMFK and the Maine School Administrative District 27 are expected to break ground on the construction of a $3 million biomass heating system that will heat nine buildings on the UMFK campus and two buildings on the adjacent Community High School campus.

That biomass project is funded through a $2.7 million U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, and is expected to save the two institutions more than $4 million in energy costs during the next 10 years.

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