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School’s Wood Boiler Dedicated to Jim Everett

By: David Deschesne

Fort Fairfield Journal, November 28, 2012

Fort Fairfield Middle/High School recently held an open house to showcase their new 3 million btu Hurst wood chip boiler, located behind the wood shop at the Middle/High School.

The $1.8 million project features its own building, boiler and wood chip storage. The unit heats both the Middle/High school building and, through a 1,600 foot loop of underground piping, also heats the elementary school. The system is so efficient that after the water returns from the elementary school, it has only lost about 6 degrees F. No smoke comes from the chimney, as all ash is collected in a special collection system. What does come out of the stack is merely water vapor.

The project was financed by a $500,000 grant from the Maine Forest Service, which received money from the National Forest Service to do 23 similar projects in Maine. The balance of the financing was through a 0% Qualified School Construction Bond (QSCB) from the Maine Bond Bank and a loan with Androscoggin Bank.

“All of the school board members supported me through this. Without school board support this project would have been dead,” said Marc Gendron, S.A.D. #20 Superintendent. “Tom Wood from the Maine Forest Service is the one who talked Jim Everett and me into taking this project on. He helped us write the grant application.”

Gendron explained this is a project that is win-win for everybody. “Now, we're burning wood chips that come from Presque Isle. We're not burning oil that comes from Saudi Arabia, or Russia or any of the other major oil suppliers.”

Three years ago Gendron attended a Superintendent's conference where he met Mark Powers from Trane and started learning about the concept of wood chip heating. Trane offered a performance bond with the installation that not only guaranteed the install price, but also that the wood boiler would perform as promised.

The original cost of chips was spec'd out at $70 per ton with 45 to 55 percent moisture content. Kevin Bouchard, who is the school’s wood chip hauler, is getting the chips from Columbia Forest Products in Presque Isle and gave the school system a price of $40.00 per ton with 25% moisture and discount terms of 10% in ten days for a total cost of $36.00 per ton.

The impetus for the project was Jim Everett, S.A.D. #20's Plant Manager, who convinced Gendron to go to a meeting on wood chip boilers at NMDC. “At first I didn't want to go, I was in the middle of the AOS reorganization of our schools and I didn't want another project, but he said we had to go.”

Everett explained that oil was the school's only current heating option and its price keeps going up. “In the time I've been here, we went from $2.20 to $3.15 per gallon and that was a great deal at the time. Jim told me we had to have an option, we can't rely on oil.”

Jim said the price of doing nothing and not acting on a wood boiler, is to sit there and watch the price of oil go up. “All through the project, Jim coordinated with all the contractors and helped handle all the little details.”

The wood chip boiler is installed alongside the school's currently existing oil-fired boiler system. “Right now, if the price of oil goes down we can still burn oil, we still have two perfectly good boilers. We have 10,000 gallons of oil in the school's tanks right now.

In recognition of Jim's work on this project, for everything he does for the school and community, the school board, staff, and students, dedicated the new building and the project in his name. Everett was presented with a sign and gift in commemoration of the event at the open house.

“It's a project that we needed to do. We've been looking for ways to economize since the early 1990s; consolidating schools to make them more energy efficient,” said Everett. “We worked with Efficiency Maine to upgrade our lighting, install variable speed motors, and make our refrigeration more energy efficient.”

“As we look forward to our community growing, this wood boiler was one of the things we had to look at, and we're still looking for ways to save money.”

The Fort Fairfield Middle/High School building now burns 17% less electricity than it did 10 years ago. At this time of year, the two schools would have been burning around $1,700 per week in fuel oil. Now that the wood boiler is in operation, they are only burning $740 in wood chips, for a savings during the Fall temperatures of about $1,000 per week.

“The wood biomass boiler was the lion share of the project, but the project was actually an energy conservation project, it did include a few other conservation measures,” said Mark Powers, from Trane Corporation. “We offered a performance bond which means the cost of the project is fixed and firm. If there are any cost overruns, Trane was responsible for that. This project went well, it came in on budget. We're certainly happy, we're pleased with all the contractors and sub-contractors.”

The boiler also pre-heats the both schools’ domestic water supply.

The estimated annual savings to the school district is $117,000. “Our charge was we wanted this project to be completely self-funded. We didn't want to have the money come from the school board or the community. So in order to do that we had to make sure the design and total project would pay back in savings over a fifteen year period.

Over the life of the loan payback, taking the historical escalation of the price of fuel oil into consideration, the town of Fort Fairfield is expected to save around $1.4 million by this conversion to wood biomass heating at the schools.

Maine Forest service competed for and received $11.4 million in Federal grant money to bring back to Maine for 23 wood biomass projects. The Fort Fairfield project was number 19.




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