PARIS — Oxford County commissioners approved sending a proposal for a wood pellet boiler to the U.S. Department of Energy on Tuesday as part of a plan to increase the courthouse’s heating efficiency.

David Kyle, owner of Kyle Engineering in Norway and consultant to the county, met with commissioners to discuss how to use funds provided to the county under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Kyle said the Department of Energy has awarded energy efficiency and Community Block Grants under the act with the goal of increasing energy efficiency, reducing carbon emissions and creating jobs.

Kyle said funds were initially withheld from Maine counties after the department determined that the counties have limited administrative duties, but allowed funding after the state’s counties appealed as a group. Oxford County stands to receive $234,000 under the program, and the county must present a detailed plan of what the money will be used for and the benefits that will result within 120 days of receiving the funds.

Commissioner Caldwell Jackson expressed his support for installing a wood pellet heating system, noting the existence of pellet producers in the state.

“We’ve got plants in Maine, and it creates Maine jobs,” he said.

Kyle said a pellet system would be carbon neutral. He said that while wood pellets currently only cost 10 to 15 percent less than fuel oil in terms of energy output, the price of oil is more likely to fluctuate.

“Fuel oil is at a four-year low,” he said. “But it’s increasing greater than its standard inflation rate.”

According to a report given to commissioners, pellets burn efficiently due to a moisture content of only 3 to 4 percent. The system would require the construction of a storage bin or silo and a conveyance system to move pellets from the storage area to the boiler.

The estimate to install a pellet system is $139,000, with an annual savings of $10,110. The cost of the system would be paid off by the savings in 14 years.

Kyle recommended that the county replace its steam distribution system with a hot water distribution system, which would increase heating efficiency of the system and allow easier compliance with a pellet boiler. He also recommended zone controls to reduce unnecessary heating of areas of the building.

The estimated savings of both renovations is $6,957, with a total cost between them of $38,000. The savings would offset the zone controls in two years and the hot water distribution system in 3.3 years.

According to the report, the courthouse recently had an annual cost of $36,687 for fuel. The building includes the Oxford County Superior Court and several county offices, including the Registry of Deeds East, Register of Probate, and Emergency Management Agency.

Kyle said wood chips were another option, and currently the cheapest source of alternate energy available for the courthouse. He said the system would be expensive to install, and have to include precautions against chips freezing together due to their higher moisture content.

Commissioners also expressed an interest in a geothermal system, but Kyle said such a system would be contingent on finding a reliable heat source near the courthouse. He also said the system would also be unlikely to create long-term jobs.

Other options included in the report were the replacement of the building’s aging boilers with newer models, the use of natural gas, and the use of a coal-burning system.

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