SACO — The conversion of Saco City Hall, Saco Police Station, portions of the Saco Community Center, and some schools to natural gas from heating oil has produced energy savings, according to the city and the utility.
The conversion took place over the last four years. Figures supplied by the City of Saco show estimated annual fuel and maintenance savings added up to about $15,700, which includes an estimated total of $10,500 yearly in savings for City Hall and the Saco Police Department, and an average of $5,700 annually for each of the last three years at the Saco Community Center.
By converting from oil to gas, the city saved the equivalent of 132,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per year, an amount equal to the annual emissions of about seven residential homes, according to Unitil, the New Hampshire company that partnered with the city on the conversions.
The savings are on energy and maintenance costs and do not include expenses associated with the conversion; city officials say some of the conversions were already budgeted and one, at Saco Community Center, was part of a bond.
A new heating, ventilation, and air conditioning unit at the community center was installed with natural gas.
“That has allowed us to air condition the gym space for use with the summer programs,” said Saco Facilities Director Don Roth. Another rooftop unit was converted to natural gas.
Alec O’Meara, media relations director at Unitil, said the HVAC unit at the Saco Community Center was fitted with a cold plasma generator to help clean air pass through, something he described as an essential component to ensure visitors were entering the facility safely throughout the pandemic.
Eventually, Roth said, the city plans to change the existing steam boiler at Saco Community Center to natural gas.
“Since the installation of the new unit, we now run the existing oil burner at way less pressure, and only on a single stage instead of on a double stage,” said Roth in an email. “Before these units, we could not keep the gym at a comfortable temperature for our seniors and after school programs. This new change-over allows us to keep the space at a great temperature in all seasons, which is especially helpful during voting.”
Roth said the boilers at the police department and City Hall boilers were due to be changed and were included within the city’s budgets.
He said the new boilers deliver heat more efficiently, are much quieter and take up less space.
Unitil began providing natural gas to parts of Route 1 and the Industrial Park Road in 2016, and initiated a program that allowed up to 1,000 homeowners, commercial businesses and others to pay costs of conversion over time. The gas line itself was already in place, the targeted build-out allowed taps into the line.
Unitil has about 550 customers in Saco at present, said O’Meara. He said the utility, which expanded to Sanford a couple of years ago and plans expansions in Epping and Kensington, New Hampshire, continues to see interest in conversions.
“This conversion product has helped us both lower our greenhouse gas emissions while also saving money — savings that will allow us to make local tax dollars go that much further,” said Saco City Administrator Bryan Kaenrath in a statement.