Biomass vote Tuesday

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OXFORD — Voters will be asked Tuesday to decide whether the Oxford Hills School District should secure a bond to pay for a nearly $2 million biomass boiler project at the high school.

The vote will take place at polls in all eight communities in the district. The referendum question asks voters to allow the school department to try to secure financing for a portion of the project. School officials said a referendum vote is required to take advantage of the no-interest bonds.

The Oxford Hills School District was awarded $750,000 by the state Department of Conservation to install a biomass furnace at the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in Paris. Officials are now eying a no-interest loan to pay for the remainder of the project, which is expected to begin saving the district as much as $120,000 a year in fuel savings.

If the district is successful in securing the bond, it will save about $600,000 over the financing period, Superintendent Mark Eastman has said Repayment of the bond will be covered by the energy savings in addition to yielding significant long-term savings.

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According to school officials, the May referendum date was requested even though the townwide elections are being held a month later, because it was necessary to get a jump on the project and its financing. There is a limited amount of funds available so there is a need to act quickly, according to school officials.

Norway Town Clerk Shirley Boyce said Friday that the ballots have been produced by the school department and they will all be hand counted to save the 25-cent per ballot that is normally incurred during a regular election and the cost to set the electronic voting machines.

Officials say approval of the referendum now will also mean that the boiler can be ordered sooner and may be in operation by early in the next heating season.

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 superintendent said the proposed conversion from oil to wood chips will result in a number of “green” benefits including a huge reduction in the use of fossil fuels.

Officials say the project will reduce the consumption of fossil fuel by 88,500 gallons, saving $128,000 in fuel in the first year. Officials say the savings will increase as the cost of fuel increases. The move will also help reduce the school district’s reliance on foreign oil, use a locally grown and manufactured wood chips and result in what officials say is a significant beneficial impact on the environment.

ldixon@sunjournal.com

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