FORT KENT, Maine — Two educational institutions in the St. John Valley broke ground this week on a $4 million biomass project that will reduce the environmental footprint of both schools while also scaling back energy costs.
Officials at the University of Maine at Fort Kent and SAD 27 kicked off the project on Thursday at the site of the former Fort Kent Armory where a large a large biomass heating system will be installed. It will be connected by means of underground hot water pipes to ten university buildings and two at Fort Kent Community High School.
The system is expected to save the two institutions more than $4 million in energy costs over the next 10 years by providing heat and hot water to the twelve buildings.
The potential also exists to expand the system to cover more buildings in the future.
The project is largely funded through a $2.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Wilson G. Hess, president of UMFK, said on Thursday that the groundbreaking marked the conversion of the entire campus from foreign oil to local biomass alternative fuel sources for heat and hot water needs.
“The project will spur northern Maine’s growing wood pellet and biomass fuel markets by consuming nearly 1,000 tons of wood biomass annually,” he explained. “It will serve as a working environmental education example of local renewable fuel replacing imported non-renewable oil, dramatically reducing the university’s annual energy costs and carbon footprint.”
The college and the school district applied for and developed the environmentally-friendly initiative.
According to UMFK officials, the biomass heating plant will burn locally sourced, climate neutral, renewable biomass.
The project will lower energy costs by installing two multi-fuel boilers to create a shared heating plant, and connecting it to the 12 project facilities to provide them with space heating and domestic hot water service.
Hess said that the biomass boiler also will boost the local economy by supporting local landowners and natural resources-based workers. It also will keep dollars spent on energy in the local economy, stabilize the heating portion of the institutions’ budgets, retain jobs through costs savings; and create new jobs.
This is the second biomass project for the UMFK campus. Last May, the university opened a $500,000 wood-to-energy heating system, which provides heat for 1.75 acres of floor space at its largest residence hall, The Lodge, and at its athletics complex.
To make the project possible, the Legislature approved the transfer of ownership of the former Fort Kent Armory from the Maine Army National Guard to UMFK in April 2012. The bill was sponsored by former state Rep. John L. Martin, D-Eagle Lake.
The bill allowed the university to acquire the 17,700-square-foot armory building, a 4,000-square-foot storage shed, and nearly three acres of land, adjacent to the UMFK campus.
The Legislature later determined the fair market value of the buildings and property to be $150,000. Proceeds of the sale are to be used for maintenance and repairs at other Maine armories.