FARMINGTON — Homeowners in Farmington and Wilton are invited to participate in a new program that offers them a 40 to 50 percent savings on heating costs by switching from oil to wood pellet boilers. Municipalities and nonprofit organizations are also eligible for the incentives.
The Model Neighborhood Project, offered by partners Western Maine Community Action and Northern Forest Center, can provide a subsidy of 30 percent or up to $6,000, to help with purchase and installation costs. The subsidies are supported by a $50,000 grant from Efficiency Maine Trust.
An informational meeting with program details will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 27, downstairs in the Farmington Community Center at 126 Middle St. Pellet boiler vendors will provide information on the systems.
Oil costs averaged about $11,000 a year for Henderson Memorial Baptist Church in Farmington, even though the thermostat was set at 56 degrees except for Sunday mornings, Pastor Susan Crane said. The church converted to using pellets last year and expects the costs to be about half that amount this year, she said. Crane will share the story Thursday.
The program aims to help 25 homeowners, three community facilities and three affordable housing facilities with a subsidy for wood pellet boilers over the next two years.
Applications will be accepted starting Thursday, with installation expected to begin in the fall for the first phase of the project. Participants will be monitored and provided with a free energy audit and six hours of sealing air leaks in the building.
The Maine Model Neighborhood Program is based on one done in Berlin, N.H., Maura Adams of Northern Forest Center, said.
The nonprofit center based in Concord, N.H., raises awareness and promotes the benefits of forest-based economics and conservation programs in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York, she said.
"Switching to pellets made from wood that is grown and processed in the northern forest keeps 100 percent of the money spent on this alternative fuel in the local and regional economy," Adams said. "Conversely, nearly 80 percent of every dollar spent on imported heating oil leaves the local economy."
Keeping participants to Farmington and Wilton creates a neighborhood or cluster of pellet boiler owners, she said. This helps create pellet delivery systems, public interest and maintenance support to make it easier for others to switch.
With an average system costing $17,000, the 30 percent subsidy brings the price down closer to $12,000, William Crandall of Western Maine Community Action said.
The payback from fuel savings on a system is expected within 10 years. This funding brings it down to about 6.7 years, he said.
Locally grown energy in the form of wood pellets saves money but it can also produce local jobs and keep money spent on fuel in the local area, Crandall said.
It's not only about business for the wood pellet mills in Strong and Athens but also for the local wood cutter or the chain saw salesman, he said.
"The owner of the Geneva mill in Strong once said if 50 homes used 10 tons of pellets a year, it would add another shift of workers to the mill," Crandall said.
When RSU 58 in Strong and RSU 9 in Farmington converted to wood pellets, they became "anchors" or larger customers for bringing pellet deliveries here, he said.
Crandall also credits state and federal legislation with helping to promote alternative fuels, especially the changes to HUD regulations prompted by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.
Before the changes, banks and insurances would not have approved the use of pellet systems, he said.
For more information, contact Crandall by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call at 207-860-4451 or visit www.northernforest.org/model_neighborhood_project.html.