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Special meeting will determine fate of biomass plant


August 27, 2009
WINNISQUAM — The Winnisquam Regional School Board and Budget Committee, both of which did not recommend the biomass plant proposal presented at this year's town meeting, have had several months to reassess their positions and are now recommending the article that will be put forth at a special district meeting next month.

The public hearing and special meeting are scheduled for Sept. 10. The warrant will ask the district to raise and appropriate funds for the biomass plant. If approved, the district will enter into a lease/purchase agreement with Honeywell, which guarantees energy savings.

"Since district meeting (we have) applied for stimulus funds and will be financed at about .9 percent, which makes the numbers work for us," School Board Chair Mike Gagne said. "It's cash-flow positive."

A Department of Education stimulus bond for $3.5 million was awarded, payable over 15 years with a zero-percent interest rate. For every dollar spent on principle, 50 cents will come back to the district. If the article passes at the special meeting, the district will borrow the money and put it in an interest-bearing account, as the first payment is not due until the project is finished. The interest accrued in that time will go toward paying Honeywell, as will the money saved in energy costs, which is projected to be $165,000 or more each year.

The woodchip burning plant will service both the middle and high school and will be located across the street from the track, adjacent to the sawmill by the Voc-Ag building. Gagne said that putting it there means nothing will be touched – not parking, not the track, not even the flagpole.

Right now there is no firm start date for construction, though the project has to begin this year in order to get the stimulus funds. Gagne said that the project is currently in the engineering phase. Once that is complete, the improvements are estimated to take 12-14 months.

Representatives from the school district have visited all three community select boards to inform them about the biomass facility, and Gagne said it has been well received in all three. As a courtesy, the district also went to Tilton's Planning Board and Zoning Board of Adjustments.

"This isn't just some hasty project," Gagne said. "It's been well researched and well thought out."

The warrant article has been reviewed and approved by the Department of Revenue Administration and district legal.

Gagne praised Ian Raymond, a member of the Sanbornton Energy Committee, who spearheaded the project and worked closely with Honeywell and the district.

"He deserves a huge amount of kudos," Gagne said. "There have been hundreds and hundreds of volunteer hours (put into this). It's been a huge team effort."

Gagne also admitted that had voters not approved Raymond's petitioned warrant article in March, the School Board likely would have dropped the idea altogether.

"The voters gave us the authority to move forward," Gagne said. "Both bodies (the School Board and the Budget Committee) have done a complete 360."

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