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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.”
Wednesday, July 15, 2015
Former Governor John Kitzhaber's resignation in February prompted some soul searching in this state about ethical behavior in industry and government.
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
BY GARY THILL | PHOTOS BY JASON E. KAPLAN
A storied institution climbs down from the ivory tower.
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
BY KIM MOORE AND LINDA BAKER
Child care in Oregon is expensive and hard to find. We delved into the numbers and talked to a few executives and managers about day care costs, accessibility and work-life balance.
Monday, July 13, 2015
BY SAM BLACKMAN
Storyteller-in-chief with the CEO and co-founder of Elemental Technologies.
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
BY KIM MOORE
A conversation with Chris Maples, president of the Oregon Institute of Technology.
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BY JASON NORRIS
Uncertainty in Greece and China, along with potential interest rate hikes mean investors are looking at the market and nervously questioning where they should be invested.
Friday, August 21, 2015
Renee Spears, founder and owner of Portland-based Rose City Mortgage, is hot to trot to sell pot.
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Oregon Sick Leave is here, and changes to the federal white-collar worker regulations are on the way. This workshop will prepare you for both. We invite you to participate in an interactive discussion on how to start planning now for the future impact on your operations and finances.
Presented by OEN + CENTRL + YESpdx.
This Roundtable will cover numerous issues under the employer "shared responsibility" rules of the Affordable Care Act, including how to track the "full-time" status of variable-hour employees, temporary or seasonal employees, and employees who experience a change in status or a break in service. Additionally, we will provide a brief overview of Code sections 6055 and 6056, which require most mid-sized and large employers to submit their first information reports to the IRS in early 2016 regarding the health insurance coverage being offered to employees. We invite you to participate in an interactive discussion on how to prepare for the future impact of the shared responsibility rules on your operations and finances.