There are several school districts in Northern areas now switching to new systems of heating their schools to keeping the students warm and save funds at the same time. One School district in Maine is installing biomass boilers to which will be used to heat three of their district schools. They will be using only locally produced wood pellets to fuel these boilers which will aid in the growth of local economy as well.

This particular district (SAD 54 in Skowhegan, Maine) is pioneering this effort in that this system will be heating multiple schools, and is using exclusively local fuel source of wood pellets. The equipment for the district had a cost of $1.7 million and the boiler alone set them back $500,000 which was set up in the high school basement. One may wonder what they are going to use all those funds for that they will be saving on heating costs, though it may take a season or two to break even, the savings will probably add up quickly afterwards.

This massive heater is fed by an auger from a 42 ton silo located near the high school football field. It runs off of a 3,500 gallon hot water tank heated by the wood pellets and circulates to every room of the three schools it heats.

Brent Colbry, Superintendent of SAD 54, said that the wood pellet project was paid for with a low-interest federal loan under Obama’s stimulus package. “The payback will come from the savings from the oil,” he said. “You take the cost of the loan, you take the cost of the pellets and the cost of the boiler, compared to what we were spending on oil before — we’re saving between $60,000 and $100,000 a year.”

Maine Woods Pellet Co in Athensprocured a 5 year contract to supply the boiler with about 600 tons of wood pellets per year at $175 per ton. This averages out to be about $105,000 annually, where the oil equivalent would be twice that cost. At this rate, the entire loan should be paid off in about 10 years, that on average is a third of the time it takes many of us to pay off an home at the fraction of that cost.

Just in case those plans don’t work out as planned, the school board has already authorized additional connections for natural gas. The previous two oil-fired boilers also remain in place as a precautionary back up plan. The plan is to have the system test fired by the end of January 2013. They’re keeping the propane for hot water for now though.