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Winnisquam kicks off construction of biomass plant

From left to right, State Senator Deb Reynolds; Representatives Dennis Fields, Deb Wheeler, and Liz Merry; Ian Raymond; State Senator Kathleen Sgambati; and Winnisquam Budget Committee Chairman Keith Murray do the ceremonial dig at the biomass plant’s groundbreaking ceremony Friday. Meghan Siegler. (click for larger version)
April 07, 2010
TILTON — Kicking off the construction of a biomass heating plant, Winnisquam Regional School District held a groundbreaking ceremony Friday afternoon.

The event celebrated both the biomass plant, which is part of a comprehensive energy efficiency upgrade project currently underway at all five district schools, and the people who helped make it happen.

The biomass plant will heat both the high school and middle schools and will be fueled by wood chips. It will add a third fuel alternative to the existing #2 fuel oil and natural gas duel service boilers.

Business Administrator Cheryl Somma said that although the School Board signed a letter of intent with Honeywell in June 2008, the board decided in March 2009 not to put an article on the warrant for the project. At that time the board members said they wanted more time to study the project's feasibility. But the article made it to the warrant anyway, by petition.

"We had a member of the public who felt very strongly (that it was the right time to move forward)," Somma said.

Ian Raymond, chair of Sanbornton's Energy Committee, brought an article forward in March asking voters to allow the School Board to move forward, which ultimately led to a special meeting in August, where the biomass project passed overwhelmingly.

Raymond said he had waited for the project to break ground with an "anxious anticipation" that rivaled the time his pregnant wife was about to give birth.

Raymond said the schools will be greener and more efficient, and paying for the woodchips will be the equivalent to purchasing fuel oil at 89 cents per gallon. It is projected to save $4.5 million over the next 25 years, and the plant's construction has no impact on the tax burden. After touting the project's benefits, Raymond said that "this is not the end," as he and school officials are already looking into a green energies technology program that would prepare students for environmental degree programs. Though he expects such a program will be a challenge to fund, Raymond said he's faced and overcome plenty of obstacles in getting the biomass plant project this far.

One such obstacle was that when the district first starting looking into the biomass plant, the cost of heating oil was expected to be about $5 per gallon. The district wound up locking in at $1.89 per gallon. Budget Committee Chairman Keith Murray said that decrease made the project less viable. Financing was expected to be at 0 percent, he said, and it came in around 2 percent. But ultimately, with funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in the amount of $3,550,000, the project was able to move forward. The district also negotiated a "workable" financing rate, and subcontractor costs were lower than expected, allowing them to add a classroom to the new facility.

"Our district is leading the way … in energy efficiency, independence and education," Murray said.

Murray pointed out that at the special meeting in August, a 96 percent margin approved the article, something unusual in the Winnisquam district.

School Board member Jasen Stock said that as executive director of the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association, a parent, a taxpayer and owner of timberland in Tilton, he had a lot of stake in the success of the biomass project.

"It was a long path, but it truly is a win, win, win for all of us," Stock said. "We didn't know where we were going to wind up or how long it would take."

Also at the groundbreaking ceremony were State Senators Kathy Sgambati and Deb Reynolds and House members Deb Wheeler of Northfield and Dennis Fields and Liz Merry of Sanbornton. Sgambati read a letter from US Senator Jeanne Shaheen, who commended the school district and Honeywell for their "leadership and vision."

Superintendent Tammy Davis said construction is expected to get underway this month, and the plant should be completed by the end of August, just before school starts.

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