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School's wood chip heating system a money saver

The Weathersfield school’s wood chip boiler, now in its second year of operation, has already saved the school an estimated $50,000 in heating costs. By JORDAN DAVIS. (click for larger version)
September 24, 2009
ASCUTNEY — As temperatures drop in coming weeks, taxpayers in Weathersfield won't have to worry about skyrocketing heating oil prices for the town's K-8 school.

School Board Chair Stephen Walasewicz said the new wood chip heating system at the consolidated Weathersfield School — which houses 200 — has saved the board an estimated $50,000 in heating costs in one year when compared with the costs of oil heat for both schools before consolidation.

Walasewicz said heating costs for the Perkinsville Elementary School during the 2007-2008 school year were around $29,000 and for the Weathersfield Middle School, about $42,000.

"Although the figure for the middle school was a little higher than usual because of the construction, we're still looking at spending $30,000 in a normal year," Walasewicz said.

Subtracting the cost of the wood chips used last year — 200 tons at rougly $13,000 — Walasewicz said "you're close to $50,000 in annual savings based on market fluctuation."

Walasewicz said the savings generated by the new heating system have gone well beyond the board's expectations.

"We originally hoped that if we could save 50 percent we would be in good shape," Walasewicz said.

Although one argument against the savings might be that the combined square footage of the old schools would be much larger than the square footage of the Weathersfield School, that argument is false.

"One of the things that is statistically interesting…is that this school is 73 percent bigger than the other two buildings combined," Walasewicz added.

Regarding public concerns about air pollution, Walasewicz said the wood chip boiler has a miniscule impact on the environment.

"A woodstove at home causes more air pollution than this system does," he said.

The school's facilities manager, Gary Graham, said Messersmith Inc. manufactured and installed the wood chip heating system.

On a typical winter day, the wood chips are delivered by tractor-trailer trucks and deposited into the school's 60-ton capacity storage pit. The chips, roughly an inch and a half in diameter, are then transported to a conveyor belt by a large augur to a metering bin, which uses lasers to prevent blockage as the chips are transferred to the boiler.

"As with any alternative fuel there is a little extra work involved," Graham said. "Every day there's a bit of ash removal from the grates and you have to monitor the computer system which runs the whole thing."

Graham said the school's old oil boilers are still used as a back-up heating source.

"Sometimes you have to shut [the wood chip system] down for maintenance," Graham said. "And I use the oil burners a little in the fall before switching to wood chips."

Overall, Graham said the wood chip heating system has been a great addition to the school — an addition that has little to no complications.

"Why every school system in the state doesn't have one, I don't know," he said.

State Representative Ernie Shand, D-Weathersfield, said the wood chip heating system was included in the school's $10.5 million construction project, which was completed over a year ago.

At the time, Shand said the state was offering a 90 percent reimbursement rate as an incentive for installing more energy efficient heating units.

Due to program's rapid popularity, Shand said it is moratorium.

"Right now we have 24 school systems that have a promise from us to get funding for either bio mass, solar or energy performance systems," Shand said.

Weathersfield is one of those schools. When that money will be received — along with the roughly $3.5 million still owed by the state towards the school's construction costs—is anyone's guess.

However, Shand did say he will be bringing up the school's construction and heating system reimbursements at the House Institutions Committee deliberations early next year.

Martin Lord Osman
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