The Rockingham County complex is located in Brentwood, NH in a fairly isolated area. It consists of an assisted living facility and nursing home, as well as the jail and other county facilities. I have been an employee of the county Department of Finance at the complex for almost a year now, but it was not until very recently that I became aware of their many initiatives to be energy efficient and sustainable. Upon inquiring about new construction on the site, I learned about the recently-approved plans to implement a biomass boiler plant. Last semester I took part in a project for which we conducted research about ways to save energy for UNH, so I was very curious about the plant. To find out more about the motivations behind this project, I met with Jude Gates, the director of Facilities, Planning, and Information Technology at the complex.
Efforts to get the biomass plant approved first began in 2009. The grant for the project went through in 2010 and construction began this past year. The plant is expected to begin operating this month, and will supply energy to all of the nursing home and the jail. The plant cost about $3.9 million to implement, but it will only take between five and ten years to pay for itself. It will save at least $350,000 in heating expenses, probably much more as the cost of fuel increases. The plant is expected to have a 25-year lifespan, during which it will save the county at least $8.6 million.
It is also a much cleaner energy source. It will reduce CO2 emissions by 2500 metric tons per year. The only bi-product is wood ash, which is captured and used in the hay fields on the site. This process brought to mind the idea of a closed-loop system that sustainability strives for. Another benefit of the biomass plant is that it supports the local and state economy by purchasing the woodchips from New Hampshire suppliers. Jude is hopeful that the plant will raise awareness of these sorts of initiatives and provide educational opportunities for the community. As complicated as the project may have appeared at the start, Jude says that there have been unexpected benefits at every corner.
During our meeting we also discussed other areas of the county complex that are energy efficient. The complex uses energy-efficient lighting, as well as a low flow water system that saves 15,000 gallons of water a day. A portion of the electricity used is generated from steam by using a turbine system. The complex also has its own water treatment facility, so water that has already been used is treated and used to water the hayfields. The county uses this hay and sells the surplus. The use of this water recharges the aquifers below the fields. This is another example of a closed-loop system.
Jude hopes to look into solar power for the complex next, as well as permeable parking lots. By allowing water to pass through it, this pavement assists with storm water management, decreases the need for salting in the winter, and lasts longer. I was unaware that we have porous asphalt in multiple locations on campus.
I was very excited to hear about this project; it is encouraging to discover that there are an increasing number of local sustainable initiatives right under my nose. I, like Jude, am also hopeful that this project will provide an educational opportunity, and that other institutions in the area will follow the example of Rockingham County Complex.Written by Megan.