OAKLAND — Last month, construction began on Regional School Unit 18’s $37 million biomass woodchip boiler.

On Tuesday, government officials joined with teachers, administrators and students to break ground on the project — at least in a ceremonial sense.

The project, which was approved 224-175 in a five-town voter referendum on Sept. 6, calls for the construction of a 2,472-square-foot biomass plant on school property in Oakland.

When completed in April 2012, the boiler will burn wood chips to provide hot-water heat to three schools: Messalonskee High School, Messalonskee Middle School and Williams Elementary School.

The project is funded through the Federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The U.S. Forestry Service is funding $500,000. The remaining $3.7 million comes from a zero-percent-interest federal construction bond.

The project is funded through the Federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The U.S. Forestry Service is funding $500,000. The remaining $3.7 million comes from a zero-percent-interest federal construction bond.

More than 30 people attended the ceremony Tuesday, which featured speeches from local, state and federal officials. District superintendent Gary Smith opened the event.

“This is a great moment in this district’s history — of many, many good things that have happened,” he said.

Ken Fletcher, director of the state Office of Energy Independence and Security, said the project is praiseworthy.

“I think this project is the perfect example of how Maine people are going to achieve energy independence,” he said.

Fletcher said too much money is leaving the state’s economy through energy consumption. As an example, Fletcher cited the high prices of heating oil in 2008.

“Maine people were sending $5 billion a year out of our state. It was just leaving the state and it probably wasn’t going to return,” he said. “Over 10 percent of our money, our wealth, our resources were leaving the state.

“In this case, we’re still going to be spending money for energy, but it’s staying within the state. It’s going around and around. It’s creating jobs.”

Brian Whitney, a representative for U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, presented a letter from the senator.

“This new facility will reduce heating oil usage by 60,000 gallons per year, and lessen the schools’ environmental impact while simultaneously saving between $5 (million) to $10 million in operating costs over the next 30 years,” Snowe wrote. “This is truly a win-win-win proposition.”

State Speaker of the House Bob Nutting, R-Oakland, also spoke.

“This is an important day for the town of Oakland and for central Maine,” he said. “It demonstrates what a combined effort from the federal, state and local communities can do.

“Government works best when it works together, and this is a perfect example.”

 


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