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November 4, 2011


The University of Maine at Fort Kent and the Maine School Administrative District 27 have received a $2.6 million U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to construct a biomass heating system to heat 11 buildings on the UMFK and Fort Kent Community High School campuses.

The $3 million project is expected to save the two institutions more than $4 million in energy costs during the next 10 years.

UMFK President, Wilson G. Hess, said, “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. This will spur northern Maine's growing wood pellet and biomass fuel by consuming over 1,300 tons of wood biomass annually. It will serve as a working environmental education example of local renewable fuel replacing imported non-renewal oil, and, it will dramatically reduce the University's annual energy costs.”

UMFK and M.S.A.D. 27 partnered together, in an extension of their joint five-year-old 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 underground hot water pipes to nine university, and two high school buildings.

The district 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

· strengthen national security by reducing 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 M.S.A.D. 27

The current annual cost of space and water heating all facilities in the proposal is $334,913, of which $243,716 is for the UMFK facilities, and $91,197 is for the M.S.A.D. 27 buildings.

UMFK and M.S.A.D. 27 propose to lower those energy costs by installing a multi fuel boiler to create a shared heating plant, and connect it to the 11 project facilities to provide them with space and domestic hot water heating.

The biomass district heating plant would 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.

Wood chips are available at an “energy equivalent” price that is approximately 80 percent lower than the cost of heating oil. That would cut heating costs for the affected facilities and enable UMFK and M.S.A.D. 27 to save $282,389 in the first year alone, based on a cost of $2.83 per gallon for fuel oil and $40 a ton for wood chips. The five-year savings would be nearly $1.8 million, assuming that oil prices increase 10 percent each year.

The biomass boiler also 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 total project cost is $3,000,724. The UMFK/MSAD 27 grant provides $2,617,560 from the USDA's Rural Development High Energy Cost Grant Program. The applicants will provide a total match of $383,164, or 12.8 percent of the total request.

The project announced today is the second biomass project awarded to UMFK this year. In May, the University received a $500,000 grant from the state Department of Conservation, using federal stimulus funds, to convert its largest residence hall, The Lodge, and its athletics complex to a wood-to-energy heating system. That system will provide heat for 1.75 acres of floor space and is expected to save the campus nearly $1 million in the next decade.