South Reynolds School gets $1 million grant for biomass heating system

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

ELLINGTON -- Southern Reynolds School District has been awarded a nearly $1 million grant to install a new, more energy and cost efficient heating system for its buildings.

The system could provide more than $300,000 in energy savings for Ellington schools over the next decade.

"This will basically provide an entire system," said Superintendent Mike Redlich. "The only cost to the school district is that we will have to run the system for 10 years and report our energy savings annually."

The Fuels for Schools grant provides seven southern Missouri school districts with funds to purchase biomass heating systems. The grant is administered by the Missouri Department of Conservation and comes from $6 million in American Recovery Reinvestment Act money. Grant money was given to districts in areas with strong forestry industry. Districts will utilize a boiler that burns wood chips or sawdust to generate heat, which will be piped into buildings.

"This technology should help reduce dependence on fossil fuels, reduce energy costs, create or retain local jobs and support healthy forests and the state's forest industry," grant administrator John Tuttle, Forestry Field Programs supervisor for the MDC, said in a press release. "The Fuels for Schools projects will help create a stronger market for woody material historically considered waste, such as unhealthy or small-diameter trees and wood debris left from logging. These forest products currently have little or no commercial value."

Similar biomass systems have been prevalent in states such as Pennsylvania for many years, Redlich said.

School officials met Monday with a stakeholder group of local forestry groups, school board members, school personnel and conservation staff to discuss the biomass system. Next, the district will work with an engineer to determine the best location and style of system for Southern Reynolds.

Southern Reynolds currently heats its buildings with a mix of propane and electric units, with parts of the system up to 30 years old.

In calculating the district's potential energy savings, conservation officials considered Southern Reynolds heating costs for the last several years versus the cost of using wood chips priced at $40 per ton.

Redlich believes biomass heating could lead to even greater energy savings than have been estimated.

"Our feeling is that $30,000 a year is a conservative estimate," he explained. "Currently, we can get wood chips for $20 a ton."

Sawdust would cost even less, Redlich said, and some mill owners have said they would donate truck loads at no cost.

"We have six significant sized mills or forestry businesses within the school system and a lot of smaller ones," he said. "If we could get even two or three truck loads a year donated, that would definitely affect the operating cost."

The new system must be in place by June 2011, according to grant requirements.

A new building will be constructed for the new boiler and a supply of wood product. The district is considering areas away from main classrooms, near industrial arts buildings.

"We want to minimize unknowns like noise from construction, operation and delivery," Redlich said.

If the $970,000 in grant money allows, the district may also be able to add a chiller system to the new unit.

The upgrade would provide much more efficient cooling, Redlich said. The district already has a small chiller and also uses individually heating and cooling systems.

"Those options will have to wait until we see the cost of the boiler system and if there is money left in the grant to pay for part of the chilling system," he said. "If not, it is something that can always be added a later date."

Districts in Eminence, Gainesville, Mountain View-Birch Tree, Perryville, Rolla and Steelville also received funds from Fuels for Schools.

Recipient selections were based on each district's economic needs, how dependent it is on the forest products industry, its ability to implement the project quickly, it proximity to public and private forest land and its partnership with other public entities that could benefit from the biomass energy system.

Southern Reynolds operates on a budget of approximately $5 million annually.

Grant money over the next five years could add $2.4 million to revenues, in addition to the expected energy cost savings from the new biomass system.

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