|Pellet Boiler Schematic|
Next summer, money from the 2013 Vermont Yankee decommissioning settlement is scheduled to help pay for the oil-to-wood pellet furnace conversion of a Windham County school.
Flood Brook Elementary School in Londonderry will become the first full-sized public school to receive a new pellet-burning furnace with Windham Wood Heat Initiative (WWHI) assistance, a program overseen by the Windham Regional Commission, WRC planner Marion Major said in an October 7 interview.
WWHI was created with funding from the December 2013 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) between Entergy and the State of Vermont that settled most of the parties’ disagreements and cleared the path for Vermont Yankee decommissioning. The MSA provides more than $40 million from Entergy for site restoration and renewable and economic development including $5.2 million for the Vermont Clean Energy Development Fund. This excerpt from an April, 2015 WWHI press release summarizes the program:
“The $1.6 million-program, funded by Vermont Yankee decommissioning via the Vermont Clean Energy Development Fund (CEDF), will help at least 20 municipal and school buildings convert to heating with advanced wood heating systems that use local, sustainable wood while addressing those buildings’ energy efficiency and durability needs. The program also includes public education, training for local building professionals, and fuel supply procurement.”
WWHI will pay 25% of a school’s pellet furnace installation cost and also offers planning assistance. After the oil furnace at the small Esteyville school building in Brattleboro failed in September 2015, WWHI enabled the conversion to pellet heat, thus cutting oil consumption by 1100 gallons per year, according to a March 30, 2016 report on i.brattleboro.com. WWHI also has financed control system upgrades to the Academy School in Brattleboro, Bellows Falls Middle School, and Leland & Gray in Townshend. Several others schools have tentative conversion agreements that are contingent on securing voter support. But there has not yet been an oil-to-pellet furnace conversion at a full-size, traditional public school – Flood Brook is scheduled to be the first.
The unexpectedly low cost of heating oil has been a challenge to the speedy acceptance of wood pellet conversion, Ms. Major said. The emergence of the hydro-fracturing mining process that has suppressed natural gas prices – to the detriment of the nuclear power industry – also has suppressed the price of heating oil. However, Major said many school officials remember when heating oil was very expensive and understand that fuel prices are subject to rapid change.
A recent snapshot of price comparisons, however, is hardly encouraging. The February 2016 Vermont Fuel Price Report, published by the Vermont Department of Public Service, shows fuel oil costing $16.85 compared to $22.41 for wood pellets. Until pellet fuel costs as much as or less than oil, school officials will be looking an expensive conversion that – for now – consumes a more expensive fuel, as well.
An October 5 wood boiler incident that forced the evacuation of a Lebanon, NH school is highly unlikely to occur in Vermont, Ms. Major said. According to the October 6 Valley News daily newspaper, stack emissions from the Lebanon Middle School wood pellet furnace were wind-blown into the school’s air intake system, causing smoke to circulate inside the building, the News said. The Vermont systems use standards designed to prevent such incidents, Ms. Major said.
Guy Page is communications director of the Vermont Energy Partnership (www.vtep.org). Page is a frequent guest blogger at this blog: his most recent post is The Panama Canal and the Renewable Mandate.