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|Tuesday, April 01, 2014|
BY APRIL STREETER | OB CONTRIBUTOR
Nothing is more ‘old school’ than an oil-burning boiler. These behemoth machines, with their giant combustion chambers and extensive heating ductworks, live in every school building Portland Public Schools (PPS) owns.
But they don’t burn oil anymore. Three years ago PPS set out to begin to convert the 1930s-era boilers from diesel/bunker fuel to cleaner-burning natural gas by replacing their internal burners. By doing so, Oregon’s largest school district has realized impressive carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions reductions in the bargain.
At first, the proposed conversion was seen purely as a cost- and energy-saving measure. PPS was using around a million gallons of a diesel/bunker fuel mix, called PS 300, annually for its 47 schools.
“The fuel was delivered by barge to Portland, and rumor had it that that might be switched to trucks, with a big impact - higher costs,” said Tony Magliano, PPS facilities director. “So we started looking around for a replacement.”
What PPS found was that a relatively small investment of around $11 million for burner upgrades in all the boilers would allow them to use natural gas, thus saving the district an estimated $1.8 million in fuel and maintenance costs each year. The cost savings were ample, yet serendipitously, eco-benefits turned out to be as impressive. Getting rid of the oil burners would be like taking 2,500 cars off the road each year.
First, though, PPS would have to find money for the conversions, no easy feat in a perennially cash-strapped funding atmosphere. Through Governor Kitzhaber’s Cool Schools initiative, a small portion of the total budget could be financed.
After some thought, PPS decided to privately finance the remaining $9 million in project costs, planning to pay back the loan just in five years from fuel savings. Working with SKANSKA as general contractor and with NW Natural running the natural gas lines to each school’s boiler room, PPS managed to switch out 33 schools’ burners in the summer of 2012.
“We had to work around school schedules and we needed to do all those 33 schools at once,” Magliano said, in order to make the first payment on the debt. Luckily, he added: “Our savings exceeded projections.”
In the first year, not only did the school district easily service its debt — but by the close of its fiscal year 2012-2013, PPS also cut its carbon emissions by just over 5,000 metric tons, and reduced the many maintenance hours that employees use to spend (in full protective suits and respirators) to "punch" the boilers - i.e. scrub out black soot accumulating in boiler tubes.
In the summer of 2013, the remaining 14 schools got their natural gas burners installed. By the end of this school year, PPS expects the CO2 reductions will total 6,300 tons annually
Though PPS hadn’t initially factored it in, the switch further allowed the district to reduce the heights of schools’ brick chimneys, which slightly reduces their danger in a seismic ‘event,’ as well as let it decommission many underground fuel storage tanks.
One other fortuitous benefit of the conversions, especially in light of rising tension over air quality around sites like the former PPS Clarendon school building in North Portland, is the toxic air emissions reductions.
Jeff Haman, PPS energy specialist, calculated that just with the first 33 burner conversions CO2 emissions dropped by 44% and methane emissions dropped 78%. In addition, nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions dropped 87% and particulates (soot) emissions were 90 – 95% eradicated.
As soot and NOx are both implicated in cardiovascular diseases as well as asthma and other respiratory ailments, the burner conversions are a small but beneficial contribution to Portland’s air quality and childhood health.
“It’s particularly relevant for Portland area schools near large emitters of neurotoxins like manganese,” Peveto said. “It is true for NW Portland schools and potentially even more for North Portland schools like Roosevelt and the former Clarendon campus.”
Both public and private institutions could stand to gain, not just monetarily but also in contributing to the state’s improved air quality and health outcomes by planning to transition operations to cleaner fuel use. In some cases biofuel boilers might even be cost effective (and could spur Oregon’s alternative fuels industry), though natural gas currently holds a cost advantage.
“We think more school districts, hospitals, and college campuses would benefit by making [this] switch,” said Melissa Moore, NW Natural communications manager. “Another category are manufacturers, which when switching can experience cost savings, environmental benefits and less maintenance.”
Thursday, July 24, 2014
BY LINDA BAKER | OB EDITOR
Remember the naysayers? Those who called the South Waterfront aerial tram a boondoggle? Those who rejoiced at the massive sell off of luxury condos at the John Ross and Atwater Place?
Tuesday, July 08, 2014
BY LINDA BAKER | OB EDITOR
The New Yorker recently published a sharply worded critique of “disruptive innovation,” one of the most widely cited theories in the business world today. The article raises questions about the descriptive value of disruption and innovation — whether the terms are mere buzzwords or actually explain today's extraordinarily complex and fast changing business environment.
Update: We caught up with Portland's Thomas Thurston, who shared his data driven take on the disruption controversy.
Wednesday, July 02, 2014
BY JESSICA RIDGWAY | OB WEB EDITOR
Dress for Success Oregon promotes the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support and career development tools.
Thursday, July 31, 2014
BY MARY SPILDE | OB GUEST CONTRIBUTOR
Faced with the aftermath of the “great recession,” increasing concern about the environment and dwindling family wage jobs, we have some very important choices to make about our future.
Friday, August 15, 2014
In this week's poll, we asked readers: "Who should pay for the troubled Cover Oregon website?" Here are the results.
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Tom Cox interviews Pete Friedes, author of "The 2R Manager," about becoming a Best Boss.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
BY TOM COX | OB BLOGGER
When I say, “Your Employee is Always Right,” I do not mean “right about the facts,” but rather “right about how they feel” and “right about how they want to be led.”
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