Montana school moving from fuel oil to wood pellets

By Anna Simet | September 24, 2014

Eight years after its elementary became the one of the first schools in the state to use biomass as heating fuel, Troy Public Schools is in the process of converting its high school to wood pellets.

The 33,235-square-foot elementary school’s pellet-fired heating system became operational in November 2007 and saves the school about $12,000 each year.

Now, via a $50,000 grant from Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, the high school will install a similar system, said Superintendent Jacob Francom, and the school is also in the running for a $500,000 Montana Quality Schools Grant that would pay for the rest of the $200,000 project as well as some other efficiency upgrades.

The 55,000-square-foot high school currently uses fuel oil for heat. “We’ve had engineers come in and evaluate our system, look at trends and cost, and we’ve been told we’ll be able to pay off a boiler system it under five years,” Francom said.

Wood pellets for the elementary school, which are stored in an outdoor silo, are currently sourced from about 20 miles away in North Idaho Energy Log in Moyie Springs, Idaho, said maintenance manager Keith Haggerty. The high school will deploy a setup similar to the elementary’s, he said.

Francom said that three different wood pellet boilers are being looked at, but the one to be installed at the school hasn’t been decided yet. However, the grant money must be used on equipment and/or materials within the next 16 months, so decisions will be made soon.

“We’ll be hitting it hard and getting organized over the winter time, so hopefully we’ll be able to start [on installation] in March or April, Francom said. “It’s going to be more efficient, and it’ll keep our buildings warmer.”