St. John Valley

Hospital’s biomass plant a boost for local wood industry

FORT KENT, Maine — In 2012, the year of its 60th anniversary, Northern Maine Medical Center’s primary heating plant changed over to a state-of-the-art Chiptec biomass furnace system, one of only two in the state at the time.

The biomass project was funded through a federal loan from USDA Rural Development and a $750,000 grant funded by the United States Forest Service (USFS) under the American Recovery Act and administered by the Maine Forest Service.

In late October of this year, members of the USFS and a representative from the Maine Forest Service, as part of grant funding specifications, made an on-site visit to NMMC.

Bill Greaves, regional forest ranger for the Maine Forest Service, said, “I can’t say enough about people like Joey Bard and how helpful people like him are to the success of such a project. Joey and so many others have invested tremendous time and effort to make this successful for the hospital and the local economy.”

Peter Beringer, forest stewardship coordinator for the USFS, described the purpose for their visit as supportive and “to make sure things are working properly.” Also accompanied by Rob Clark, forest management group leader for the USFS, the visiting team went on a full tour of the facilities, including the most recent expansion which extends to providing service to Forest Hill.

Clark said, “With a reported decrease in paper mills from 11 to six, this type of facility creates a new opportunity to use resources that might otherwise go to waste. Woodland owners are able to cater to a different market in the sale of woodchips when selling pulp to paper companies is no longer an option.”

Not only does the biomass support local woods operations, but this type of plant also benefits air quality. According to Bard, depending on the variable market price of fuel, NMMC has experienced as much as a 50 percent reduction in heating fuel expenses with the transition to a biomass boiler.

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