Project supports local economy and forest-based jobs

FARMINGTON – Leaders of the Old South Congregational Church in Farmington, Maine, expect to save about $8,000 a year now that that the building has been converted from conventional oil burners to a high-efficiency wood pellet boilers to heat the 13,000-square foot church.

“We decided to switch to wood pellet heating to better support the local economy, to be more environmentally friendly, and of course, to save money ,” said Dale Bardo, treasurer and a trustee of Old South Congregational Church. “The Model Neighborhood Project provided an incentive, and we decided it was a good investment to use our endowment to cover the cost of the new system. We’ll use the $8,000 a year savings to repay our endowment, and after that it will be pure savings.”

The church is the largest building so far to participate in the Model Neighborhood Project serving Farmington and Wilton. The Model Neighborhood Project’s goal is to help the Northern Forest region move away from dependence on imported oil toward a local energy source that will create jobs and strengthen the forest economy.

The Northern Forest Center and Western Maine Community Action (WMCA) are partnering on the Model Neighborhood Project, which is now offering a financial subsidy of 15% up to $3,000 toward the purchase and installation of a wood pellet boiler for qualified participants. In addition, the state of Maine offers a $5,000 statewide rebate for high efficiency pellet boiler installations. Homeowners also may be eligible for PACE or PowerSaver loans offered by Efficiency Maine. For non-residential projects, the Center offers a 30% subsidy up to $10,000 for selected non-residential projects.

Over the last several years, the church has used between 5,100 and 6,665 gallons of oil to heat the large brick sanctuary and ancillary rooms, spending as much as $20,000 a year to stay warm. To date, eleven homeowners and one other community building, the Fairbanks Church, have converted from oil to wood pellet heat since the Model Neighborhood Project launched in early 2014.

“We’ll be helping at least 25 homeowners and six community buildings get off oil for good, but what we’re really doing is inspiring change on a much larger scale,” said Maura Adams, program director for the Northern Forest Center. “We’re creating a geographic concentration of pellet boiler users here in western Maine. That will drive the development of pellet delivery systems and installation and maintenance services that we need so anyone would feel comfortable switching from oil to pellet heating. When people see how well these systems work—and realize they’ll never be at the mercy of the oil companies again—I think they’ll be motivated to make the change to wood pellet boilers.”

“The economic benefits to the community are huge: building owners save 40 to 50 percent on their heating costs, all of the money they spend stays in the local economy, and demand for wood pellets helps create jobs in forestry and wood pellet manufacturing,” said Bill Crandall, Housing and Energy Services program manager for WMCA.

“We want people to see how seamlessly these pellet boilers can replace oil burners,” said Crandall. “These are highly automated boilers—they respond when the thermostat calls for heat and pellets feed in automatically. There is no lugging bags of pellets, and ash removal is an easy, minimal chore compared to a pellet stove.”

Four brands of pellet boilers qualify for use through the Model Neighborhood Project. The church chose Kedel pellet boilers from Interphase Energy. Project participants can also choose a Froling boiler from Tarm Biomass, an MESys Autopellet boiler from Maine Energy Systems, or a Pellergy Alpha boiler from Pellergy Systems. A. Maurais & Son of Jay installed the Farmington Congregational Church boilers.

Over 25 years of use (the boilers carry a 30-year warranty), the church should save $200,000 on heating costs and generate a positive economic impact for the region of more than $800,000. “It can make such a difference to the community when what we spend on heat stays local,” said Adams. “When we buy wood pellets, all our money stays here; when we buy oil, 78 percent of what we spend leaves the region.”

Over the lifetime of the initial 31 boiler conversions, the Model Neighborhood Project should save participants in Farmington and Wilton $1.4 million on heating expense, generate $5.7 million of economic impact and result in a net decrease of 8,600 tons of carbon dioxide.

Residential incentives are available only to single-family residences or owner-occupied multi-unit buildings serving as primary residences in Farmington or Wilton, Maine. Selection of project participants is based on criteria including diversity of housing stock, diversity of annual heating demands, suitability of space and existing heating infrastructure (chimney, circulation system, etc.), and willingness and ability of homeowners to represent their experience to others.

Participants will receive a free home energy audit and several hours of air-sealing work to improve their home’s energy efficiency, and may be eligible to take advantage of Efficiency Maine’s PACE or PowerSaver loans.

Other benefits of the program include strengthening markets for low-grade wood, which provides a financial incentive to forestland owners to keep their forests intact, and opportunities to stabilize and increase employment in forest-based businesses.

Funding from the Doree Taylor Foundation, Efficiency Maine Trust, Horizon Foundation, Rural Jobs Accelerator Challenge of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, the U.S. Endowment for Forestry & Communities and the Wapack Foundation is supporting the expansion of the Model Neighborhood Project to Farmington and Wilton. The Northern Forest Center is a nonprofit organization that helps create economic opportunity and community vitality from healthy working forests in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York.

Western Maine Community Action is a social service agency that has been providing services for over 45 years to people living in the western mountain region of Maine. The organization is dedicated to the principle of promoting the self-sufficiency of people.


Bill Crandall, Housing and Energy Services Program Manager, Western Maine Community Action Phone: 207-860-4451 Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Maura Adams, Program Director, Northern Forest Center Phone : 603-229-0679, ext. 114 Cell: 603-545-9629 Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.