Pennsylvania school receives $500,000 grant for biomass boiler

By Katie Fletcher | December 05, 2014

In late October, $12.5 million in Pennsylvania Energy Department Authority grants were awarded to 28 local governments, schools and businesses for alternative and clean energy projects, including projects deploying various technologies such as biogas, solar energy, hydropower, biomass and more. The West Branch Area School District in Clearfield County Pennsylvania is one of the 28 grant recipients.

The West Branch School Board officially accepted a $500,000 PEDA grant at a special meeting in late November to go towards the estimated $2.17 million biomass boiler system installation and implementation. Although specific technology and suppliers have not been selected yet for the project, preliminary steps have been taken. “We have a handful of clean, screened, green woodchip suppliers and boiler manufacturers that we have contacted,” said Jason McMillen, business manager at West Branch Area School District. “The selection of these vendors will be completed through a bid process and consultation with McClure Company.”

The McClure Co. is a mechanical contracting, engineering and service organization, and will serve as the school’s energy services company (ESCO). The company will oversee the installation of the boiler, as well as the new building construction that will house the boiler.

Members of the McClure Company gave a presentation to the school board about the project at the November meeting. Account manager Jennifer Ponce de Leon suggested housing the biomass boiler in an approximately 1,500 square-foot building behind the room where the school’s current oil boiler resides. This boiler will still be used as a backup system. “Seventy-five percent of the school’s heating needs will be satisfied by the biomass boiler,” McMillen said. “The school will still need to use an estimated 20,000 gallons of heating oil for the shoulder months and some domestic hot water.”

The biomass boiler will be fueled by woodchips, which may be delivered to the school on a moving floor truck. Some of the board members at the meeting expressed concern with the need for moving floor trucks to deliver the chips. According to McMillen, the concerns with the walking floor trucks are two-fold. “One, by limiting the delivery method to walking floor trucks the number of woodchip suppliers may also be limited. Two, several board members were concerned that the trucks’ mechanics could malfunction,” he said. “Although this could happen with any type of mechanical device, walking floor trucks are the most common delivery method for woodchips.”

Alternatives to the trucks are dump trailers and tri-axle among others. Each trailer load to the facility would hold around 25 tons of woodchips. The boiler is conservatively estimated to consume 1,087 tons per year; McMillen suggests it will most likely be less than that.

Annual savings for the district are expected to start around $133,000 in the first year and increase to nearly $265,000 after 20 years. This reduction in heating costs is one of the benefits of installing a biomass boiler at the school; the project will have guaranteed savings through performance contracting ESCO process. Utilizing a locally-sourced carbon neutral energy is another benefit, but ensuring that delivery options are not limited by building design may be a challenge, McMillen said.

If all goes as planned project construction will begin next spring with the boiler running by the 2015-2016 heating season.