Maine university, school partner for biomass district heat

By Lisa Gibson | November 07, 2011

With a $2.6 million USDA grant set to cover almost the entire cost, a high school and nearby university in Maine will construct a biomass heating system with expected fuel savings of up to 80 percent.

The University of Maine at Fort Kent and Maine School Administrative District 27 collaborated to apply for and develop an environmentally friendly initiative in an extension of their joint five-year-old College Community Project. The $3 million biomass district heating project involves an underground hot water distribution system connected to nine university buildings and two Fort Kent Community High School buildings.

The system will consume 1,300 tons of woody biomass annually, sourced from the plentiful surrounding wood basket, according to the university. In addition, the schools say the wood chips can be purchased at a price 80 percent lower than the current cost of heating oil. The system will reduce maintenance costs by replacing eight oil-fired boilers with one single state-of-the-art boiler.

The $2.6 million grant comes from the USDA’s Rural Development High Energy Cost Grant Program. The remaining $383,000 required for the project will be met by the school district and university.

The proposed project represents the second biomass project awarded to the University of Maine at Fort Kent this year. In May, it received a $500,000 grant from the state Department of Conservation to convert its resident hall and athletics complex to a wood-to-energy heating system.