TAMC holds valve-turning ceremony
to commemorate CNG conversio
PRESQUE ISLE — TAMC in Presque Isle has made history by becoming the first in the state, and only the second in the nation, to convert its heating and cooling from fuel oil to compressed natural gas (CNG).
The new energy era was ushered in Monday at TAMC’s A.R. Gould Memorial Hospital with a unique valve-turning ceremony. State, regional and local leaders joined TAMC officials at the newly constructed CNG decompression station behind the health care facility on Academy Street.
“This not only makes sound economic sense and helps us advance our mission, but allows us to greatly reduce our carbon footprint and makes our organization a much better steward of the environment,” said Sylvia Getman, TAMC president and CEO. “The switch to CNG promises to reduce TAMC’s fuel costs by a significant percentage. While the actual savings will vary based on the ultimate cost of the fuels, the savings is projected to be between $400,000 and $500,000 per year.”
Total start-up costs for the CNG conversion project were right around $300,000, so a return on investment is expected in less than one year. TAMC officials announced they also intend to expand how CNG is used in the future to include powering the hospital’s clothes dryers and cooking ovens.
CNG is a form of natural gas that is stored under high pressure. It is one of the cleanest and safest fuels available, according to gas industry statistics.
Construction on the project got under way last fall on the south end of the hospital property in an area that until recently was used as a parking lot. Local contractor Soderberg Construction of Caribou prepared the site for the decompression station, where trailers filled with CNG connect to provide fuel to heat and cool the hospital.
The decompression station lowers the pressure and transfers the gas into an underground pipeline, which runs along the eastern boundary of the hospital property and crosses a parking lot to connect with and feed the boiler plant. The existing burners on TAMC’s boilers were converted to burn CNG with only minor modification. They can also burn No. 2 heating oil as a back-up fuel.
“We investigated several different options including wind power and biomass. Given the low start-up costs and stable natural gas market, we assessed that CNG was the most cost-effective option,” said James McKenney, TAMC vice president for diagnostic and support services. “We will continue to look toward long-term solutions and explore other forms of alternative energy, including biomass, for our facilities throughout central Aroostook County.”
McKenney, who spoke at the ceremony along with Tim Doak, TAMC facility engineer, and Gene Lynch, vice chair of the TAMC board of trustees, serve with other staff and trustees on TAMC’s alternative energy committee. Doak designed the site, led the effort to obtain the necessary environmental permitting, and worked with several local contractors who completed the work.
“We are pleased that we were able to complete this project with a talented group of local contractors, keeping construction dollars right here in Aroostook County” said Doak. “Even though this project was a first, and there was no prior design to rely on, the team worked collaboratively to overcome every challenge that cropped up throughout the project duration. This includes everyone from contractors to TAMC staff members and state and local regulatory agencies, as well.”
The effort to seek state approval for TAMC and other such projects was supported by the Aroostook Partnership for Progress (APP) who formed a Natural Gas Working Group to champion the cause and tackle the barriers and rules implementation with the state of Maine. APP worked with state and local officials who were instrumental in working with the Maine PUC, Fuels Board and Fire Marshall to finalize the natural gas operating parameters and eliminate the permitting obstacles.
The partnership with the local community to clear any obstacles and the innovative nature of the project were lauded by several speakers at the ceremony, including Jack Barry, who serves as regional executive for New England for the American Hospital Association.
“The Aroostook Medical Center today is taking a step that lives up to its tradition of leadership and innovation. With the transformation of the health care delivery system under way, and the nation’s fiscal future uncertain, hospitals are being asked to contribute as never before to ‘bending the cost curve’ of total health spending,” said Barry. “Today, The Aroostook Medical Center begins a new journey in reducing the cost of health care while living up to its commitment to the community to provide a safe, clean environment. The American Hospital Association and our member hospitals across the United States congratulate TAMC and look forward to learning from your example.”
Prior to the start of construction and through the process, TAMC worked with partners Mechanical Services, Inc., which has four locations in Maine, including Presque Isle, and New England-based XNG (Xpress Natural Gas) to develop specific details for the conversion. Mechanical Services introduced the concept of CNG to TAMC, and provided the expertise for the boiler house piping and burner conversion.
XNG is the first company in Maine to haul CNG for heating use, and provides the trailers, decompression station, and CNG. TAMC’s supply of CNG comes from the northeastern United States. XNG trucks with tube trailers transport the fuel from a new CNG compression station in Baileyville in Washington County.
When a truck arrives, it connects to the decompression station and the tube trailer remains on-site until the tank is close to empty. At that point, another trailer is trucked to the site to take its place. Several trailers of fuel are delivered each month.
The cylindrical trailers used to transport CNG meet very stringent safety standards. They are designed to survive a rollover at highway speeds without rupturing. The trucks hauling CNG to TAMC use the Centerline Road and Route 10 to access the hospital, thus avoiding the heavy traffic and sharp turn onto Academy Street in downtown Presque Isle.