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Did you know that it is possible to heat buildings in the northeast using wood biomass, a renewable energy fuel? With nearly one-third of total energy costs going toward heating our buildings, it is no wonder that Massachusetts school districts are searching for cheaper and more sustainable alternatives to heating oil. Renewable energy systems also provide a learning opportunity that sets a good example for students.

wood pelletsTwo school districts, the Ashburnham-Westminster Regional School District and the Southern Berkshire Regional School District, utilized the technical assistance provided under the Schools and Public Housing Integrating Renewables and Efficiency (SAPHIRE) program to find out that their buildings were good fits for renewable heating and cooling technology. Examples include solar panels that heat hot water, geothermal heat pumps that use the earth’s temperature to heat and cool buildings, as well as woody biomass for heating. The school board and staff for each district understood fully the benefits of switching from heating oil to wood pellet heating after an engineer completed a site visit and feasibility study report. Both schools also learned that they could each save at least $40,000 dollars annually by switching to wood pellet heating. The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) awarded a SAPHIRE grant to both schools to help with the cost of construction. The projects are expected to enter construction phase in 2015 and be completed by next winter.

Linden Hill School - Wendell Mass.

Wood pellet boiler – Linden Hill School, Wendell Mass.

“We’ve already had success with biomass pellet heating systems, so we are especially enthusiastic about this project,” said Ashburnham-Westminster Regional School District Superintendent Ralph Hicks. “The district owns and operates a similar biomass pellet system at the John R. Briggs Elementary School. Facilities staff is familiar with the maintenance of these systems and we have experience coordinating bulk pellet delivery to our buildings.”

DOER’s SAPHIRE program combines energy efficiency improvements with innovative renewable thermal heating technologies. By installing renewable energy at high-profile community buildings like schools, it demonstrates how these technologies can deliver significant energy cost savings and provide comfortable learning environments for students.

The SAPHIRE program works with the Massachusetts School Building Authority and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center to help identify possible Mass Save® and other utility rebates, grants and low-interest financing to encourage more renewable thermal projects in Massachusetts communities. In total, DOER has dedicated over $32M for programs that offer support for installation of renewable heating and cooling across the state.

The SAPHIRE program is still looking for schools interested in changing their primary heating source to a renewable source like geothermal or wood biomass. If your school is interested in investigating opportunities for renewable heating and cooling, check out the SAPHIRE web page for application materials or email Elise Anderson to learn more.

Written By:


DOER SAPHIRE Program Coordinator

Elise coordinates the SAPHIRE program for DOER. This program works with schools and low income housing developments to promote clean heating and cooling. Previously, as a DOER Clean Energy Fellow, she oversaw ARRA-funded Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) and Qualified Energy Conservation Bond (QECB) programs for municipalities. Prior to DOER, Elise interned in Berlin with the German Solar Industries Association (BSW-Solar) while she completed her masters in Political Science and International Relations at Northeastern University. She holds dual undergraduate degrees in Political Science and German Language and Literature from Winona State University in Minnesota.

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