The University of Maine at Fort Kent and the Maine School Administrative District #27 today broke ground on a $4 million biomass project on the site of the former Fort Kent Armory that is expected to save the two institutions more than $4 million in energy costs during the next 10 years.
The biomass project will provide heat and hot water to a least 12 buildings on the UMFK and Fort Kent Community High School campuses, and potentially more. The project is largely funded through a $2.7 million U.S. Department of Agriculture grant.
“With this project, UMFK will complete the conversion of the entire campus from foreign oil to local biomass alternative fuel sources for heat and hot water needs,” said UMFK President Wilson G. Hess. “Additionally, the project will spur northern Maine's growing wood pellet and biomass fuel markets by consuming nearly 1,000 tons of wood biomass annually. It will serve as a working environmental education example of local renewable fuel replacing imported non-renewal oil, dramatically reducing the University's annual energy costs and carbon footprint,” Hess added.
UMFK and MSAD #27 partnered together, in an extension of their joint College Community Project, to apply for, and develop, the environmentally-friendly initiative. The project involves the purchase and installation of a large biomass heating system that will be connected by means of underground hot water pipes to ten university, and two high school buildings.
There exists the potential to expand the project to two additional MSAD #27 buildings.
The project will lower energy costs by installing two, multi-fuel boilers to create a shared heating plant, and connect it to the 12 project facilities to provide them with space heating and domestic hot water service.
The biomass heating plant will:
· lower fuel costs by up to 80 percent (compared with #2 fuel oil)
· stabilize fuel prices
· stimulate the local economy
· enhance environmental sustainability
· reduce dependence on foreign oil
· reduce maintenance costs by displacing eight, oil-fired boilers, with a single state-of-the-art boiler with proven success in Europe
· help UMFK meet its climate neutrality obligations under the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment
· complement collaborative efforts between UMFK and MSAD #27
The biomass heating plant will be similar to fossil fuel heating systems in that it provides hot water for a variety of uses to many buildings within a district. Instead of fossil fuels, however, the plant will burn locally sourced, environmentally-friendly, climate neutral, renewable biomass.
The biomass boiler would boost the local economy by: dramatically reducing costs; supporting local landowners and natural resources-based workers; keeping dollars spent on energy in the local economy; stabilizing the heating portion of the institutions' budgets; retaining jobs through costs savings; and, creating new jobs.
The project initiated today is the second biomass project for the UMFK campus. Last May, the University opened a $500,000 wood-to-energy heating system, which provides heat for 1.75 acres of floor space at its largest residence hall, The Lodge, and at its athletics complex.
The new biomass project will be sited within the former Fort Kent Armory. The Maine State Legislature approved the transfer of ownership of the former armory from the Maine Army National Guard to UMFK in April 2012. The bill was sponsored by former state Representative John L. Martin (D-Eagle Lake).
The bill allowed the University to acquire the 17,700-square-foot armory building, a 4,000-square-foot storage shed, and nearly three acres of land, adjacent to the UMFK campus. The Legislature later determined the fair market value of the buildings and property to be $150,000. The proceeds of the sale are to be used for maintenance and repairs at other Maine armories.
The land on which the armory sits once was part of the former Madawaska Training School (a predecessor school of UMFK) until it was subdivided in 1955. The armory opened in 1957 and remained open until 2009 when the National Guard no longer needed it for training and vacated it.