Oxford Hills school gets federal grant for wood chip boiler

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OXFORD — The Oxford Hills School District has been awarded a $750,000 grant by the state Department of Conservation to install a biomass furnace at the high school in Paris.

“It was really exciting to see we got this particular grant,” Superintendent Mark Eastman told the school board Monday night. Officials are looking at a no-interest loan to pay the remainder of the $1.8 million project, which is expected to begin saving the district as much as $150,000 a year in heating oil within the next few years.

The school district was one of six projects funded through $3.2 million in federal recovery funds which also included the Bruce Whittier Middle and Poland Regional High School in Poland. That district, Regional School Unit 16, was awarded $636,372 for its $712,785 project that will install of a multifuel boiler to supplement the current oil system.

The Oxford Hills 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 wood boiler.

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In January, officials received news that the school district did not receive up to $1 million in state money for the project through another grant. The $750,000 was a second grant school officials had applied for. Eastman noted the work of John Parsons, who has successfully written a number of grants for the school district, including the latest one.

The conversion from oil to wood chips at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School was planned to address escalating fuel costs and reduce dependence on foreign oil sources, Eastman said.

He said the school will be heated with wood chips, not pellets, because it is the least expensive option for a wood boiler. The plan is to burn about 1,200 tons of wood chips a year, or five tons a day during the peak heating season. The cost is estimated at about $40 to $50 a ton or about one-sixth the cost of burning No. 2 heating oil.

The oil-to-wood grant concept was developed and proposed by the Maine Forest Service and approved for funding by the federal government.

In a statement by Gov. John Baldacci’s office, Maine Forest Service Director Alec Giffen said, “These awards demonstrate the role that sustainable management of Maine’s forest can play in bolstering rural economics while also reducing the dangers posed by climate change, and they both keep Maine monies in Maine and reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas levels.”

The oil-to-wood projects will avoid burning almost 263,000 gallons of oil, recirculate $600,000 in fuel dollars in the Maine economy, and avoid more than five million pounds of emissions from fossil fuels, Giffen said.

A total of 41 applications were received, according to Maine Forest Service officials.

ldixon@sunjournal.com

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