FARMINGTON – Since the 2008-09 school year RSU 9 has saved $248,000 in oil costs by switching to alternative energy sources, David Leavitt, RSU 9 director of support services, said Thursday.

“To me that is $248,000 being used back into education for students,” he said.

The savings do not include any from the new pellet boiler system that went online in October to heat Cascade Brook School, Mt. Blue Middle School and district bus garage.

That system was projected to cost $900,000, including permitting. The goal of that project was to make it cost-neutral, with the money saved in oil paying for the new system, district authorities said last year.

All but one of the district’s schools, Cushing in Wilton, has alternative energy heating systems, Leavitt said.

There are a variety of heating sources at the Mt. Blue Campus in Farmington that houses the high school and Foster Regional Career and Technical Education Center, including geothermal and wood chips.

Other schools heated by wood pellet boilers are Academy Hill School in Wilton, Cape Cod Hill School in New Sharon and the Mallett School in Farmington.

Leavitt is also considering going to propane-powered buses in the future to take advantage of available technology, he said.

“As we move forward in the long-term, we could reduce our fuel cost in half over the price of diesel,” he said.

The new 1.5 million BTU pellet boiler at Cascade Brook School replaces one of two oil-fueled boilers. The district kept one boiler as a backup. The oil-fueled systems at the middle school and bus garage also remain as backup. The way the new system is piped, if the pellet boiler failed the oil-fueled boiler at Cascade could heat all three buildings, Leavitt said.

The system heats water that goes into a 2,000-gallon tank. From there it gets pumped underground to the buildings.

The sound of pellets dropping into the boiler is a lot quieter than the oil boiler was, he said. It is controlled by computer, he said.

“I estimated we are going to burn approximately 360 tons of wood pellets to heat the three buildings” annually, he said.

In the month it has been operating, the boiler has used 36 tons of pellets to heat the three buildings.

Looking at all the buildings in the district heated by wood pellets, it will be in the range of 500 to 600 tons of pellets a year, he said.

“We’re buying them locally. They are coming out of Geneva Wood Fuels in Strong,” Leavitt said. “As a district we used to burn 220,000 gallons of oil.”

This year, he bid for 44,000 gallons of oil and hopes to reduce that amount in the future.

Using biomass fuels is helping the local economy and it is a renewable energy, he said.

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