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Biomass Heating System might be used at county complex

March 21, 2012
NORTH HAVERHILL–The Grafton County Complex may be heated by a biomass plant as early as next year if state representatives approve a plan presented this year.

Monday morning at 9 a.m., a feasibility report compiled by Banwell Architects and GWR engineering out of Burlington, Vt., was presented to the Executive Committee of the Grafton County delegation. Representatives from Campton, Lebanon, Haverhill, Enfield, Benton, Holderness, Lyme and Lincoln were in attendance as well as the superintendent and commissioner of Woodsville Power and Light.

The project's goal is to use local renewable fuel (woodchips) as a means to reduce fuel costs and to create jobs while also creating a market for wood byproducts.

Bill Root, owner of GWR engineering, began his presentation by pointing out successful biomass projects.

"Biomass woodchip cost of operations is significantly less. That's what makes it a big seller", Root explained. School systems that have implemented renewable fuel heating units such as Winnisquam and Merrimack Valley have all had a positive reaction to the change. Both schools reported saving about 86 percent in fuel costs. "The price of woodchips has actually decreased while the price of oil has increased," said Root.

On average, the systems operate 179 days out of the year and takes less manpower to stay maintained than a conventional system. Up keep on the boiler would consist of approximately fifteen minutes every two to three days, in which the non-toxic ashes would need to be raked out. In turn, the ashes would be used as a soil additive to enhance the pH of the fertilizer used on the farm surrounding the complex.

Root pointed out that the project would benefit the local economy. Regional sourcing of the Grafton County Complex's fuel needs will have a direct effect on local loggers and will increase employment. Other benefits include greenhouse gas reduction. Fossil fuel releases carbon monoxide, emissions which have been determined to alter climate. Wood combustion releases carbon dioxide, which is considered "carbon neutral." This means that the carbon dioxide released is in a natural carbon cycle.

Energy independence made its way into the top three benefits of biofuel. Using less oil would allow the county to not fall victim to price fluctuations or shortages. The use of biomass fuel would also curtail foreign fuel imports.

The study showed that if put into effect, the taxpayers of Grafton County would save up to $18.5 million dollars over a span of 30 years. Chairman Rusty Bulis stated, "You need to spend money to save money." The start up cost without financing the new jail would be $2,387,500. Annual savings the first year are calculated to be $326,327. If the new jail is included the numbers jump to a start up cost of $4 million dollars and an annual savings of $568,308.

The system will require a building to hold the equipment as well as insulated subsurface hot water piping to boiler rooms at the different county complex buildings. The question of whether or not to utilize the old jail for housing the new boiler system was considered. The high clearance needed to fit the stacked combuster as well as storage was concluded to be unreasonable. Truck deliveries would be impeded, as the only way to access the old jail is through the visitor parking lot, located between the confined area of the administration building and the maintenance shop.

If approved, the Grafton County Complex would be the first in the state to use a biomass plant as its prime source of heat. The proposed timeline predicts the project to be completed by June of 2013.

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