Natural gas, biomass could cut heating costs

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Carroll schools could save thousands in switch from oil heat

By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — An engineering study shows that St. Paul School in Carroll County might be able to save thousands of dollars a year by heating with “biomass” instead of oil.
The biomass in this case would be sawdust pressed into pellets.
A report by Langseth Engineering on both St. Paul and Hillsville Elementary schools was presented to the Carroll County School Board at its Jan. 7 meeting.
The study, funded by a federal grant that came through the New River Highlands Resource Conservation and Development Council, showed that a wood pellet-fired boiler would be a better fit for St. Paul, Superintendent Strader Blankenship said.
“We have two buildings that are quite expensive for us to maintain heating-wise because they are [heated with] oil,“ he said. "They asked which buildings they should study, and I asked them to study the buildings that have had the most expensive heating systems.”
The Cana school has two boilers, and the study looked at replacing just one with a biomass system, the superintendent explained. That’s probably the best fit.
Hillsville Elementary was also studied, but there’s a natural gas line heading in that direction, so it’s a possibility that could one day be heated with gas.
At St. Paul, there is no natural gas option.
“If you’d like further investigation into that, I will invite the company who did the study to come in an talk to you all about what it would take,” Blankenship told the board.
Information gathered for the study put the cost of using fuel oil for 2011 at $78,000, as the cost per gallon reached a high of $3.08.
Researchers figured that an average of 23,100 gallons of fuel oil is needed to heat the school with 2,771 million metric British thermal units, or mmbtu.
(One btu is approximately the amount of energy needed to heat one pound of water by 1˚ Fahrenheit.)
Using the wood pellet system, 195 tons of wood pellets would be needed to generate a like amount of heat.
At $160 per ton, pellet fuel costs would add up to $32,000.
To outfit the wood pellet system, St. Paul would need a 2.4 mmbtu burner, a 20-ton steel silo and a pneumatic system to feed pellets into the burner
Capital work needed is estimated at $85,000 plus $2,000 a year in maintenance and operational costs.
The study gave three options to cover paying for the system, including owner financing, performance contract or energy supply agreement.
Total savings over a period of 25 years are projected at $805,000 under owner financing, $709,000 under performance contract and $834,000 under an energy supply agreement.
While two companies in the region could supply the wood pellets — one of them in Galax — Blankenship noted there would have to be a lot of deliveries going into the school.
Asked about smoke, the superintendent said the burners are so efficient there’s little byproduct and most of that would go up the smoke stack.
One reason Blankenship likes the wood pellet system is that it would give St. Paul a second source of heat.
Would the pellet system aggravate anyone’s asthma, School Board Chairman Brian Spencer asked.
Blankenship doesn’t know, and that’s why he would invite the engineering firm to answer board’s questions.
School Board Member Joey Haynes said he would be interested in getting more information.
School Board Member Sandy Hendrick said he has a pellet stove for his home and he likes it. The pellets are far cheaper than oil, he said.