May 25, 2018
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UMFK dedicates new $858,000 biomass system

By Jen Lynds, BDN Staff

FORT KENT, Maine — A sizable grant from the Maine Department of Conservation is being used at the University of Maine at Fort Kent to make two of its largest buildings more energy efficient.

On Thursday, UMFK had a ribbon cutting ceremony to dedicate its new biomass system, paid for with a $500,000 DOC grant funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The new wood-to-energy heating system will convert more than 90 percent of the campus from foreign heating oil to locally sourced, renewable biomass fuels. It will heat the UMFK Sports Center athletic complex and its largest residence hall, The Lodge.

The award was announced last May. 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.

“Replacing non-renewable, foreign fossil fuels with renewable, local biomass fuels promotes sustainable, regional resource development,” UMFK President Wilson G. Hess said. “Promoting renewable biomass fuels is an important economic development opportunity for northern Maine. It is part of our broader vision for UMFK to model sustainable economic and environmental practices.”

Using the grant money, UMFK has replaced one of two fuel oil boilers located in its Sports Center with the high-efficiency biomass boiler. 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.

The Sports Center and The Lodge consume, on average, more than 37,000 gallons of heating oil annually, according to officials at UMFK. The college 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 expects 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 multifuel, 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 entire project cost $858,000, which included a cash match of $318,000 from the university and $40,000 from in-kind labor contributions.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins fought to secure the federal funding. She congratulated the college on the ribbon cutting.

“The biomass project you have completed, with this $500,000 grant, will provide long-term benefits to local jobs and create an environmentally friendly system which will aide in the sustainability of natural resources,” Collins wrote in the letter. “Through the combined hard work of many people, the university has made this biomass system a reality. Your completed project will be the perfect role model for other communities and universities around Maine.”

Six months after the first grant, UMFK received a $2.6 million U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development High Energy Cost grant. It is expected to lower heating costs for UMFK and nearby Fort Kent Community High School by 80 percent through the installation of a biomass heating system.

The biomass system will heat a total of 11 buildings on the campuses of UMFK and the high school.

The heating system will be connected to the neighboring campuses by underground pipes through which water heated by the biomass furnace will travel.

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