BRATTLEBORO >> The Academy and Esteyville school buildings in Brattleboro are the first public buildings to participate in the Windham Wood Heat Initiative by switching from fossil fuels to locally sourced wood pellets to heat their buildings.
Academy School's switch will reduce the school's oil use by 15,000 gallons and generate $50,000 a year in positive economic impact for southern Vermont's economy. Esteyville will cut oil consumption by 1,100 gallons and contribute $3,700 a year to the economy.
"We've got a quiet system providing an even heat and it's been keeping our building warm," said Andy Paciulli, principal of the 355-student elementary school. "A bonus is that many of our students are learning about the importance of reducing our carbon footprint and decreasing our use of non-renewable resources. Heating with wood pellets has helped to deliver that lesson to our young learners. I expect we'll realize the cost savings which should be significant for us and the taxpayer."
The Windham Wood Heat Initiative is helping schools and municipal buildings in Windham County convert to state-of-the-art wood pellet boilers to achieve several goals: reducing heating costs, making the county a hub of advanced-wood heating technology, and strengthening the local forest economy.
The initiative is covering 25 percent of project costs up to $75,000 per conversion.
The Esteyville oil boiler failed in September 2015. The Windham Wood Heat team responded by fast-tracking a pellet boiler installation, enabling the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union to take advantage of the benefits of wood heat before the heating season was in full swing.
Windham Wood Heat projects that converting 20 schools and public buildings to local wood fuel for heat will retain more than $3 million in the local economy over the 25-year life of the boilers.
The Sustainable Energy Outreach Center is administering the program. These grants greatly reduce the financial hurdle for converting schools and public buildings to wood heat, shifting shift them to advanced wood heat technology now to start seeing the savings and economic benefits right away.
To date, Windham Wood Heat has heard from more than 10 municipalities and school districts that are considering converting about 20 buildings to wood heat. Windham Wood Heat has completed or begun 15 energy audits for potential wood heat candidates, ranging from municipal buildings in Brattleboro and Brookline to public schools in Londonderry, Dummerston, and Halifax. The audit results overwhelmingly show positive economic results for wood heat conversion, despite current low oil prices.
Innovative Natural Resource Solutions completed a wood supply analysis in September 2015 that concluded the region has "an ample supply of low-grade wood" to supply heating systems such as the new pellet boilers at Academy and Esteyville. The analysis estimates that a seven-county region in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts — including and immediately adjacent to Windham County — can supply between 252,000 and 578,000 tons of green (not dried) wood each year, while the demand from 20 new buildings using modern wood heat would be approximately 8,000 tons annually.
The $1.6-million program is funded by the Vermont Clean Energy Development Fund with funds from the decommissioning of Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant. Each conversion will also address energy efficiency and building durability. The program also offers public education, training for local building professionals, and fuel supply procurement assistance.
"Oil prices are relatively low right now, but we've seen how widely they can fluctuate, which makes it hard for municipalities and school districts to budget accurately," said Maura Adams, energy program director at the Northern Forest Center. "In contrast, pellet prices are very stable and there is the added benefit that 100 percent of every dollar spent on local wood fuel stays in the local economy."
The Windham Wood Heat initiative is a collaborative effort that brings together local business, non-profit and public entities, and leverages regional and national expertise to develop the systems and programs necessary to make advanced wood heat a widespread option in Windham County. The state awarded the grant to SEON, which serves as the lead agency for the project. BuildingGreen, Inc. assists with financial management and the Northern Forest Center manages the project. The Windham Regional Commission provides assistance with public outreach and project coaching, while STIX L3C, BuildingGreen, Forward Thinking Consulting, and Innovative Natural Resource Solutions provide technical assistance.
The project team assists with energy efficiency and fuel switching, while working to build greater mechanical capacity in high-efficiency wood-based heating.
"Windham County is nearly 90 percent forested," said Payne. "We have the potential to become an extraordinary regional hub of modern wood heating technology, professional development, and fuel supply and delivery."
Public school and municipal buildings in Windham County are eligible for assistance. Windham Wood Heat offers a variety of incentives and services, such as energy analyses and assessments of whether buildings are appropriate for advanced wood heat. Buildings selected for participation in the program will get one-on-one coaching through project development, bid review, budget, and public approval stages, plus incentives up to $75,000 toward installation of a high-efficiency pellet or wood chip heating system.
CEDF defines advanced wood heating systems as those that use highly efficient technology, produce low emissions, support healthy forest ecosystems, and consume local wood. To learn more about advanced wood heat, see http://www.revermont.org/main/technology/bioenergy/modernwoodheating.
Officials interested in beginning the process now for potential budget action in 2016 and early 2017 should contact Kim Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-257-4547, ext. 108.