Maine conversion projects get ARRA funds

By Lisa Gibson | November 18, 2010

Four biomass conversion projects in Maine’s Aroostook County have received a total of $3 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, contributing significantly to renewable goals set for the northern part of the state.

"Converting public facilities to use wood-based fuel is a win-win-win situation,” said Eliza Townsend, commissioner with the Maine Department of Conservation. All four heating projects were awarded $750,000 for installations of wood chip boilers expected to displace tens of thousands of gallons of fuel oil, according to the Aroostook Partnership for Progress. Recipients are: Limestone Community School; Madawaska Junior/Senior High School; The Northern Maine Medical Center; and the University of Maine at Presque Isle. “These grants will save local schools money, reduce dependence on foreign oil, create a market for Maine-grown wood and create economic activity in rural areas of Maine,” Townsend said.

In addition, the University of Maine’s Cooperative Extension Houlton office and the Process Development Center were awarded almost $1.7 million from the Maine Technology Asset Fund to construct a grass pellet demonstration facility for commercial and residential heating applications in Aroostook County. The project will demonstrate the potential for use of the nearly 400,000 acres of underutilized farmland across the state. 

The northern part of the state has set goals to convert 10 commercial boilers and 4,500 residential units to biomass by 2015. These five projects bring the converted commercial boiler total to nine, according to Walt Elish, president of the Aroostook Partnership for Progress. “We’ve created a biomass energy industry cluster,” he said. “Each of these projects will contribute considerably to reaching that goal.” The projects will help retain wealth, jobs and will increase additional investment, he added. Every aspect of the biomass industry is shaping now in northern Maine, Elish said, citing harvesters, energy generators, pellet manufacturers, and now certified biomass boiler installers.

“This is all great news to us,” Elish said of the funding. “It’s great for Aroostook County.”