In about a year, the town of Chester Municipal Center is likely to be heated primarily with an efficient wood-fired boiler, which town leaders say will cut heating costs by about half, while using a local renewable natural resource — and boosting the rural economy rather than relying on foreign oil.
The town of Chester has received recognition and been rewarded as they’ve taken yet another step towards sustainability.
The town government was awarded $207,000 this week in federal funding toward their effort to convert to biofuel heating of their expansive municipal center. The funding announcement occurred a matter of days after a videographer and crew visited town to document the town’s solar power installation for public television.
Thursday Sept. 19, U.S. senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand as well as Congressman Bill Owens (D-Plattsburgh) announced that the town of Chester was awarded a $187,000 grant and a $20,000 loan through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program to install a new pellet boiler to heat the town municipal center.
While the federal legislators touted how the project would boost efficiency and help keep senior citizens warm at the local community mealsite, Supervisor Fred Monroe said Friday that relying on wood pellets for heat would cut heating costs while enabling the town to convert to a renewable, plentiful resource that boosts the rural economy.
“The beauty of this pellet-fuel boiler installation is that we over time create jobs locally and don’t send money over to the Middle East,” he said.
A new pellet-fuel boiler could be installed and be ready for the 2014-15 heating season, he said. This new equipment would replace an aging fuel-oil boiler, and would be backed up with another existing oil-fired boiler that’s relatively new.
A consulting engineer for the town has estimated that the town can save $18,000 to $19,000 per year of about $40,000 the town annually spends for heating fuel, Monroe said.
The installation is expected to save local taxpayers as much as $190,000 over the boiler’s expected life. Payments on the $187,000 loan are about $16,000 per year over 15 years, Monroe said. He noted that savings during the life of the loan — which carries 3.5 percent interest — would be about $3,000 per year, and once the equipment is paid off, savings would jump to the full $19,000 or so. He added that the savings might increase over time as oil prices rise.
Payback on the equipment investment could happen sooner, if the town receives an additional state grant that it has applied for, he said.
The sprawling, two-story Chester Municipal Center houses various town departments, the local library, a public auditorium, the town youth program and several business enterprises as well as the town-sponsored senior mealsite.
Because the wood-pellet boiler works most efficiently when it’s working at full capacity, the backup oil burner would be fired up during the warmer months.
Monroe said the new biomass boiler — which could burn wood chips as well as wood pellets — was a natural choice for the Adirondacks, which has millions of tons of wood, not valuable as lumber, that now rots — and emits carbon dioxide in doing so — rather than being harvested to provide heat.
“Biofuel heating utilizes a renewable resource that’s a plentiful, inexpensive resource,” he said. “Now, there’s a tremendous amount of low-grade wood that’s left on the forest floor.”
While there’s no pellet manufacturing operation now located in the area, Monroe said that if enough area municipalities and industries converted to biomass, a substantial number of good-paying local jobs would be created.
Malone Middle school converted in 2011 to wood-pellet heating, and the school district taxpayers are saving between $8,000 and $11,000 per year. Due to a generous state grant, payback on their equipment occurred in just 18 months.
The wood-fired boiler that Chester is installing, unlike many woodstoves, burns with remarkably low emissions because the intense heat in the firebox results in total combustion. Steam, not smoke, constitutes the primary emission. The boiler installation also needs no stoking — it feeds itself with an automated auger. Maintenance is minimal, Monroe said, noting that an ash receptacle needs to be emptied about once per week.
Monroe said he first heard about how practical biomass heating was through a presentation about two years ago for the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board, of which he is Executive Director.
Subsequently, Monroe and Chester town board members visited the Wild Center in Tupper Lake and the North Country School near Keene to see their wood-fired boiler installations.
U.S. Rep. Bill Owens said in his press release that biofuel installations made sense in the Adirondacks and surrounding rural areas.
“We have an abundant and renewable supply of locally-produced fuel for pellet boilers in upstate New York, so in addition to lower energy bills, this upgrade and others like it make sense environmentally,” he said.
Monroe said the town leaders appreciated the funding.
“I think it’s wonderful that the federal government recognizes that wood heat saves fuel costs and helps create local jobs.”