Biomass vote passes 365 to 87.

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OXFORD — By a vote of 365-87, school district towns Tuesday overwhelmingly passed a request to secure a bond to pay for a nearly $2 million biomass boiler project at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School.

The approval will allow the Oxford Hills School District Board of Directors to go forward with a plan to install a biomass furnace at the school in Paris.

“This is an important step,” Superintendent Mark Eastman said shortly after the votes came in.

The Oxford Hills School District was awarded a $750,000 by the Maine Department of Conservation for the project. With Tuesday’s vote, officials will complete the paperwork for a zero-interest loan to pay for the remainder of the project.

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If the district is successful in securing the zero-interest bond, it will save about $600,000 over the financing period, Eastman said. Repaying the bond will be covered by the energy savings in addition to yielding significant long-term savings. The first year, the project is expected to save the district as much as $120,000 in fuel.

“The next step is to move forward with the project,” Eastman said. “We’ll sign the contract and order the boiler.”

Voting was sparse throughout the day in the eight communities that make up the Oxford Hills School District. Results were hand-counted. Each town approved the project.

“We had about 31 or 32 (voters) about 15 minutes ago,” reported Paris Town Clerk Liz Knox shortly after 3:30 p.m. By the closing of the polls, 73 votes had been cast. There are 3,785 registered voters in that town, she said.

Although the voting turnout fell just short of the expected 500 to 600 voters, Eastman said it was important to have the referendum ballot in May, rather than wait for the June annual town election, in order to take advantage of available and competitive financing, which includes the zero-interest loan.

Voting results, by town:

Waterford, 35-3;

Norway, 75-5;

West Paris, 42-7;

Oxford, 34-14;

Paris, 57-16;

Harrison, 54-18

Hebron, 20-7;

Otisfield, 48-17.

The Oxford Hills School District project will include a wood chip storage unit inside an existing building at the high school and an extension of the boiler room to accommodate the boiler. The plan is to install the system by the next heating season.

The conversion from oil to wood chips at the high school was planned to address escalating fuel costs and to make the district more energy independent by reducing use of foreign oil, Eastman said.

Officials say the project will reduce the consumption of fossil fuel by 88,593 gallons or 90 percent of current usage. It will also reduce production of greenhouse gases by more than 1 million pounds per year.

ldixon@sunjournal.com

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