Biomass Conversion Project

Mount Wachusett Community College is located on a 280-acre site in Gardner, Massachusetts, in the heart of the snow belt.  Built in 1974, the College contains approximately 450,000 square feet of classrooms, laboratories, library, theater, gymnasium, etc.

In 1996, at the request of the College and the Massachusetts Special Legislative Commission on Forest Management Practices, the Massachusetts Division of Energy Resources funded a study to assess workable solutions to lowering the high-energy costs associated with the College operation.  The study focused on the potential of converting the existing all-electric system to a biomass-fired hydronic system.  Results of this study showed potential annual savings of $276,000 with a simple payback on investment (excluding financing) of 8.9 years.

Prior to our conversion, the College utilized electricity (with an insignificant amount of solar assistance) as its sole source of climate control, which includes its heating, lighting, and domestic hot water and air conditioning requirements.  Because of its geographic location and its total dependency on electricity, the College’s utility bills have exceeded $750,000 per year.

Over the past several years, the College has implemented a variety of Energy Conservation Measures (ECMs) including:  variable air volume (VA) conversion, installation of variable frequency drives on air handler units, chiller replacements, new efficient lighting, heat pumps, cooling tower replacement, domestic hot water conversion, replacement of unit ventilators and the installation of new domestic hot water heat exchanger.  The recent ECMs have reduced total electrical consumption to approximately 8 million KWH at a cost of approximately $670,000.  Heating, ventilating, and cooling account for 67.75% of this cost, while lighting, equipment and domestic hot water represent 27.6% and 4.7% respectively.

Phase I of the conversion project is complete. The centerpiece of the College’s efforts to address the energy crisis, however, has been the conversion of the College’s all-electric campus to a biomass hydronic system utilizing wood chip fuel.  This phase of this project supplies 8 million BTUs per hour of hot water and will replace the equivalent of 3.4 million KWH of electricity while providing the heat for the campus.  The total cost of this project is $4,337,911. The College was awarded $1,000,000 from the U.S. Department of Energy as part of the FY01 Energy and Water Development Appropriation Bill and was awarded $750,000 from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative under the auspices of the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust Fund.  The College has also secured approximately $107,146 in energy rebates from Massachusetts Electric for this project as well as $225,000 from the Massachusetts Division of Capital Asset Management, leaving $1,861,300 to be financed by a Tax Exempt Lease Purchase (TELP).  For more information on the College’s biomass conversion project, please visit our fact sheet page. Follow this link to construction photos of our biomass heating plant.

The College entered into a shared saving agreement with NORESCO, the principal contractor for this project, which guarantees that the annual energy savings associated with the project ($286,467) will exceed the annual financing charge by a minimum of $8,520, resulting in a positive cash flow in year one of the project.  By accelerating the installation of a number of the ECMs, the College also received a 25% bonus rebate of approximately $22,750 from Massachusetts Electric.