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School Board Hosts Public Hearing on Proposed Wood Chip Boiler

By: David Deschesne

Fort Fairfield Journal, October 19, 2011

The MSAD #20 school board for Fort Fairfield recently held a public hearing on the proposed wood chip boiler system that has been proposed for both the Elementary and Middle/High Schools. The project cost as it now sits is $1.744 million. Additional improvements such as in improved circulator pumps and other efficiency improvements are $51,000. The school recently received approval for a $500,000 forestry service grant that will bring the total cost of the project to around $1.3 million.

The loan term is proposed for fifteen years. The annual lease payment comes out to $86,500 per year. "This is all based on zero percent financing either through QSCAB or QSAV financing through the federal government," said MSAD #20 Superintendent, Marc Gendron. "What we would be buying here is an industrial quality, commercial wood chip boiler and delivery system."

Given the estimated cost increases in oil and wood chips over the next fifteen years, there is an estimated $1 million savings on fuel oil compared to what would be spent on wood chips over that time period, even after the cost of the project has been figured in. "After the fifteen years ends and we no longer need to make the $86,000 monthly payment on the system, then we really start saving money," said Gendron. "Instead of sending money overseas and buying oil, all our chips are going to come from within a fifty mile radius. All of the money, as far as the chips go, stays in the local economy. All the contracting work is being done by local guys. The build part of the project is all going to be local, too."

Gendron says he talked with MSAD #20 plant manger, Jim Everett and they determined extra maintenance costs will be absorbed by current staff and will not result in extra overtime. "I don't believe there will be extra maintenance costs, we'll absorb them as part of our regular costs."

The boiler system will be self-contained. It is an auger-fed system and is not designed to be manually fed by hand. The elementary school currently has a generator that can run the water circulator pumps that circulate water between both buildings, so pipes won't freeze in the event of a power outage. However, the High School currently does not have any back-up power yet. "The wood chip system is auger fed and if we lost power completely, the auger won't work; but if we lost power completely, our oil boilers won't work, either."

The system was designed by Trane to provide a certain level of efficiency and cost-savings over the current fuel oil-based heating system in both schools. If the system does not perform as they have promised, they will be liable to make up the projected energy savings that are not realized by it. "They are on the hook to make up the energy savings," said Gendron. "They are guaranteeing an energy savings and if that energy savings does not materialize, they're on the hook for that."

The system will be situated above ground at the rear of the High School and will feed hot water to both the Middle/High and Elementary schools via an underground piping system. Because it will be above ground, rather than the original "pit" design, the proposed building to house the boiler will be greater than 600 square feet, which requires approval from the voters at a referendum. The referendum will be held during the November election on November 8 at the Fort Fairfield Community Center to allow the voters the opportunity to approve the construction of said building.

The school board is currently waiting on the results of the building referendum, a decision on their zero percent financing options and an extension request on the $500,000 grant. "We're on a tight schedule. If the people vote yes on the referendum and we get the zero percent financing, then I'll be coming back at the November school board meeting and asking the school board to approve going forward with the project."


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