AUGUSTA — More than $4 million could be saved over the next few decades if a firm’s proposal is accepted for alternative energy systems harnessing wood and solar sources at some city and school buildings.

That’s according to city officials studying a proposal from Revolution Energy to install the systems.

Proposals call for solar photovoltaic panels at Augusta City Center and Buker Community Center to provide electricity, solar hot air wall panels at Cony High School and Buker Community Center to provide heat, a wood chip boiler system at Cony High School for heat and a wood pellet boiler at Buker Community Center for heat.

Ralph St. Pierre, assistant city manager and finance director, said all of the new energy systems could save an estimated $4.3 million over 25 years when compared to the estimated cost of relying on oil. Officials discussed the estimated savings during a City Council meeting Thursday night.

“There is some substantial savings to be had overall, if each project is implemented,” St. Pierre said.

The savings are based on the current prices of oil and electricity, and projections of price levels over the same time period. But those prices, especially oil, have varied wildly in recent years, making guesses at cost-savings difficult.

However, St. Pierre said that’s another potential advantage of the proposed deal with New Hampshire-based Revolution Energy: The city could lock in prices for the next 15 years through a contract, providing budgeting stability.

“I’m not looking so much at the projected savings as I’m looking at being able to lock in at $3.38 a gallon for the next 15 years, guaranteed, and avoid any escalation in the cost,” St. Pierre said, referring to an equivalent price for heating oil.

But even such certainty would carry the risk that oil prices could conceivably drop and the city would still be locked in to the prices it agreed to in the contract.

“If you believe, in three years, the price of oil is going to be $1.30 a gallon, then none of this makes sense,” St. Pierre said. “But if you believe oil is going to continue to increase in cost, then that makes this more attractive.”

In October, city councilors authorized a $52,000 contract with Revolution Energy to study the feasibility of installing the alternative energy systems.

Under the proposal, the energy systems would remain owned by Revolution Energy even though they would be installed at the city and school buildings.

The city and schools could enter 15-year agreements with the company, promising to buy back all the energy the systems provide at a per kilowatt or British Thermal Unit price agreed upon in the contract.

If the city agrees to a long-term contract to purchase the energy that’s produced, then the $52,000 cost would be wrapped into the energy purchase contract, according to City Manager William Bridgeo.

City councilors, whom Bridgeo said will discuss the proposals for the city-owned City Center and Buker Community Center at Thursday’s meeting, have expressed interest in the deals.

Councilor Cecil Munson noted there would be other advantages, such as using energy produced here, not overseas.

“Anytime we can keep money in the United States of America, that’s a good deal,” Munson said. “I’m for this.”

Bridgeo said the Board of Education would have to approve the proposals for a wood chip boiler and solar hot air systems at Cony High School.

School officials could not be reached for comment Friday.

After the initial 15-year contract period, Augusta would have the option to buy the solar photovoltaic systems at City Center and Buker for a total of about $5,000; the solar hot air systems at Cony for $5,200 and at Buker for $1,165; and be given the wood boiler systems at Cony and Buker.

And the expiration of that initial 15-year period is when major savings could start, as the city would then own the systems and would no longer be obligated to pay Revolution Energy for the energy they produce. The city would then only have to pay the cost of operating and maintaining the systems, according to Bob LaBreck, facilities and systems manager.

LaBreck said most of the systems have expected life spans of 25 to 50 years.

St. Pierre noted the solar systems would provide only a small portion of the energy needed to power and heat city and school buildings. The bulk would still be provided by oil, he said.

And the projected cost savings do not take into account Kennebec Valley Gas Co.’s proposal to build natural gas pipeline through central Maine.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

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