Michigan School District To Heat Middle School With Power From Corn

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Honeywell recently announced an energy savings and modernization project with Merrill Community Schools in Merrill, MI featuring energy efficient infrastructure upgrades that will include a corn-burning boiler to heat the district’s middle school by turning bushels of corn into usable energy. This is the first Michigan school that will use this technology. The project also will improve school buildings and building systems, increase occupant comfort, and help the district reduce its annual energy costs by an estimated 30%.

Merrill Community Schools, which serves more than 800 students in Saginaw County, will fund the project with the savings generated by upgrades to its building systems. The project is made possible by an energy conservation improvement bond from the Michigan Municipal Bond Authority, which allows schools to implement performance contracts and provides the initial capital for improvement projects. Under a performance contract, improvements to school buildings are funded by the downstream energy and operating cost savings resulting from the modernization work. Honeywell guarantees the savings will pay for the upgrades over the term of the contract, so the project will not affect the district’s operating budget.

“With budgets already tight and our natural gas prices up nearly 40%, we needed a way to fund upgrades and reduce our energy costs without having to redirect money or turn to tax payers for assistance,” said John M. Searles, superintendent of Merrill Community Schools. “We wanted to make improvements that went beyond the bare minimum, however, and would have a lasting, positive fiscal and environmental impact. This contract allows us to be better stewards of both the environment and tax money.”

The project includes energy upgrade and renovation work at the district’s three main buildings (the elementary school, middle school and high school), as well as the district’s maintenance and administration buildings. Particularly notable is the installation of the corn boiler at the middle school, which will become the first Michigan school to use this alternative fuel technology as its main source of heat. The boiler, powered by 7,200 bushels of corn each year, will decrease the district’s reliance on fossil fuels and is expected to reduce annual energy costs by $10,000, a significant increase over the projected $2,000 the district would have saved with a new, traditional boiler.

“Corn’s availability, pricing stability and clean, emission-free burning properties made it especially appealing to us,” Searles said.

Other renewable energy work includes the addition of a waste oil heater in the maintenance building, which will help the district realize more than $2,000 in annual energy savings. The heater will run on waste oil collected from the district bus garage, further decreasing the district’s reliance on natural gas.

The project began in July and the work is expected to be complete by December.

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