MADISON — The school district is eyeing a geothermal heating and cooling system for the high school in an effort to reduce energy costs and improve air quality.

The School Administrative District 59 board voted last week for Superintendent Todd LeRoy to begin negotiating a possible contract with Next Energy, based in Elmira, Ontario.

Any agreement would require school board approval. Geothermal energy comes from the heat of the earth and is pumped through equipment indoors.

LeRoy said the goal is to solidify a performance guarantee that allows the district to pay less for the geothermal system than it currently pays for oil. The district pays roughly $50,000 per year in heating oil.

That way, installing the energy system would require no borrowing and could be paid for out of the regular budget, he said.

“It’s a hard one not to think of as being a good opportunity,” he said.

One of the next steps will be to identify a total cost of the project. The system would provide heating and cooling at Madison Area Memorial High School, LeRoy said, in addition to improving air quality.

The district is pursuing the alternative energy option even though Portland-based Kennebec Valley Gas Co. is planning to build a natural gas pipeline to Madison.

LeRoy and some board members said that even though natural gas prices are low now, they didn’t like the idea of being tied to a fuel source that could see a price spike in the future.

“Natural gas like any other commodity is very highly dependent on the supply and demand,” LeRoy said.

Though the district won’t know whether the project is possible until there’s a contract, Next Energy would be able to start construction immediately and likely finish the system by the fall, he said.

According to Next Energy’s website, geothermal systems have a life cycle of 25 years for the mechanical equipment and more than 50 years for the ground loop.

Erin Rhoda — 612-2368

[email protected]

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