Ferrisburgh considering wood heating for school

FERRISBURGH — Ferrisburgh Central School officials in the months to come will consider whether to invest in a new boiler that would burn either wood chips or pellets and could save the school money in its heating bills.
According to an Oct. 8 presentation at an FCS board meeting by a Renewable Energy Resources company representative, a wood chip boiler could pay for itself in as few as four years and a wood pellet unit in as few as nine years, depending upon among other things the price of fuel oil.
According to a handout, such a free-standing exterior unit would apparently cost between $64,000 and $75,000. Those numbers are not spelled out in the handout, but are based on adding up the projected savings on charts provided by Renewable Energy Resources, a Bennington firm.
Addison Northwest Supervisory Union business manager Kathy Cannon also attended a recent seminar during which small schools were urged to consider “biomass” heating alternatives because of their lower cost compared to oil, the current fuel for the five-year-old FCS boiler. That boiler would remain onsite as a back-up.
FCS board chairman David Tatlock said the Oct. 8 meeting was preliminary, but given the potential cost savings — as well as lower carbon footprint — that have been presented the board would take a serious look at a biomass boiler.
“It’s something like how a homeowner would look at putting in a pellet stove,” Tatlock said. “Ultimately you want to save money.”
Cannon said the school could take out a bond to pay for the boiler, or could simply take out a bank loan, with the understanding the savings would offset payments either way.
The Renewable Energy representative suggested a $3,000 feasibility study as a first step, Tatlock said, but the board was leaning toward doing some cheaper homework before spending that money — checking out how such systems are working for other schools that have installed them.
“Maybe even before that a low-cost step would be (looking into) what other schools are doing right now,” he said.
If that research went well, then a study would make sense, Tatlock said.
“A feasibility study would tell us what kind of fuel would be best and tell us what boiler size (we need),” he said.
Cannon said officials at her seminar recommended wood pellets because of ease of handling and lower water content, which means greater efficiency.
But on Oct. 8 Renewable Energy said they had a wood chip supplier that could guarantee a relatively low water content, and no one disputes the chips are cheaper, while pellets are more efficient, although their prices also tend to be more volatile.
“They were suggesting the chips,” Cannon said.
Tatlock said a decision would not be made quickly.
“There are a lot of variables,” he said, adding oil price projections are also uncertain.
The five-member board would also like to hear from residents on the proposal. 
“The tricky part is seeing what the public thinks about it,” Tatlock said.
If the board does opt for a biomass boiler such as proposed by the Bennington firm, it could be sited directly behind the school’s gymnasium/cafeteria wing in a freestanding building.
FCS Principal JoAnn Taft-Blakely said the boiler would be on a platform with a window to allow students to observe its operation.
“You know how we like to make things educational,” Taft-Blakely said. “It would be another opportunity for education and training for the kids.”
If the board does decide to proceed, a biomass boiler could be there by as early as the 2014-2015 school year, Tatlock said, even with what he called a lot of research to do. 
“Once we make the decision, I don’t think the time line would be that long to get it done,” he said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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