February 13, 2013

Augusta school board votes to convert Cony, technical center to natural gas

Conversion expected to cost $732,000, save $144,000 annually

By Keith Edwards kedwards@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- The Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday to convert Cony High School and Capital Area Technical Center to using natural gas heat.

The conversion, together with other planned energy-efficiency upgrades to the two attached buildings, is expected to cost about $732,000 but easily save more than that in energy costs within its first five years of operation.

Switching from oil to the currently cheaper fuel is expected to save an estimated $144,000 annually.

The two buildings burn about 93,000 gallons of oil a year.

Buildings and Grounds Director John Pucciarelli said the cost of buying and installing the new gas boiler and other equipment would be paid back within five years.

Last October the Board of Education, in an 8-0 vote, postponed an earlier, similar plan to install a gas boiler and solar panel system at the Cony/CATC campus. On Wednesday the plan, minus the solar panel piece, was approved by the board. Board member Amanda Bartlett liked the idea so much she asked whether other schools could be converted in time for the next heating season as well.

"It seems there is this huge opportunity for us as a school district to realize immediate and significant cost savings by updating our heating systems at CATC and Cony, but is it too late to add another school to that list?" Bartlett said.

Pucciarelli said it probably is too late to add another school to the current project, but he could look into converting the district's other schools soon.

Pucciarelli did not recommend solar panels, which a previous proposal had included as a supplementary heating source, because their installation would have cost roughly $250,000, and the payback through savings would have taken 30 years.

The boilers that heat the technical center are outdated, need repairs and have asbestos between sections, according to Pucciarelli, so something will have to be done with the heating system anyway. The two buildings share a heating system.

The boilers that heat the technical center are outdated, need repairs and have asbestos between sections, according to Pucciarelli, so something will have to be done with the heating system anyway. The two buildings share a heating system.

Other energy-efficiency upgrades as part of the project would include some new windows and doors at the technical center.

The lease-purchase deal would become part of a larger city project that would convert Augusta City Center, the Buker Community Center and the Augusta Civic Center to natural gas, and make other energy-efficiency upgrades this fall, at a cost of about $2 million.

The schools' share of the project would be paid over 12 years, at 2.89 percent, with financing bringing the total cost to $803,000.

Two natural gas companies, Summit Natural Gas of Maine and Maine Natural Gas, are competing for customers in Augusta. Maine Natural Gas already has put some pipe in the ground and plans to provide gas to MaineGeneral's new regional hospital, the Alfond Center for Health, by November. Summit officials expect to begin laying pipe this spring, as soon as the weather permits.

Brent Dudley, of New England Energy Solutions, a consultant on the school and city conversion projects, said the city anticipates natural gas will be available in November. If it's not ready for the start of the heating season, the schools could be heated by their old oil boilers, using oil; or LP gas or propane with the new system, with some adjustments.

Dudley said the proposal to upgrade the schools' heating system originally called for using wood pellets but was changed to natural gas once those involved learned natural gas was coming to the area.

Keith Edwards -- 621-5647

 

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