Dual-fuel option coming to more Shelton schools with propane being added

The Board of Aldermen has approved spending $97,870 to add propane-burning capabilities to boilers at four elementary schools.

The existing oil furnaces will be converted so they can use either liquid propane or oil, depending on which is cheaper. “We’re giving them options,” Mayor Mark Lauretti said.

The dual-fuel capabilities would be added at Booth Hill, Long Hill, Mohegan, and Elizabeth Shelton schools.

Most of the other schools either already have dual-fuel capabilities with natural gas, or have the potential to hook up to natural gas lines.

The aldermen voted 7-1 to approve a waiver of the bidding process to have Santa Buckley Energy do the work. Bond funds would be used to pay for the job, which should take about six weeks to complete.

Research into natural gas connections?

Alderman Jack Finn, the lone Democrat, voted against the proposal after questioning whether the feasibility of connecting to natural gas lines at the four schools was adequately investigated.

Finn also raised concerns about the dangers of having large propane storage tanks in buildings used primarily by children. “I’m concerned about the safety factor,” he said, noting he does like the idea of saving money on school building energy costs.

Lauretti countered that Shelton students now ride on buses containing propane tanks every day. He also said propane is the environmentally cleanest fuel available.

At Lauretti’s suggestion, the city purchased a fleet of new propane-powered school buses before the 2013-14 school year.

Distance to gas lines, safety concerns

Finn asked whether it might be cheaper to connect some of the schools to nearby natural gas lines, which he said were “just down the road” in certain cases.

Lauretti responded that the only one of the four schools with a nearby natural gas line is Long Hill, and in that case it’s “probably cost-prohibitive to extend the line to the back of the school, where it would need to go.”

He said the distances might be up to a half-mile in some other cases. He said the city also has just paved roads in certain areas, and roads would have to be ripped up to make any connections.

Finn agreed that Booth Hill School was nowhere near a natural gas line, but said the other three all have lines that it could make sense to extend.

Propane bus issue, children playing

Finn said firefighters recently had to spend a few hours dealing with a propane leak on a school bus, which was not in service at the time. He also said youngsters could “play” with propane tanks near schools, implying vandalism, curiosity or carelessness could be potential problems.

Finne suggested propane tanks be placed away from school buildings and “good fencing” be added that youngsters couldn’t climb over. “I just don’t want to see an accident,” Finn said.

Lauretti said all relevant codes would be followed, and nothing in life is guaranteed.

Alderman John Papa said large propane tanks can be seen at houses around the city, and there haven’t been problems with safety that he knows about.

Finn said he is still concerned. “Are there 600 kids in the playground?” he said of having large propane tanks at schools, compared to residential properties.

Pricing difference

The cost to do the conversion work at each school would be about $24,400.

According to ma document distributed to aldermen, the city could expect to save enough on energy to pay for the work in about three years.

That projection is based on average prices of $3.06 per gallon for oil and $1.80 per gallon for propane. Prices can fluctuate based on market conditions. “The numbers are pretty good,” Lauretti said.

Lauretti noted the city also should be eligible for a 50-cent-per-gallon subsidy from the federal government for using propane. “That does sweeten the deal a little bit,” he said.

Lock-in on propane price?

The document — which apparently was prepared by Santa Buckley Energy — pointed out the city and school system could save money by locking in now to buy large quantities of propane for the buses and buildings for the next one to three years.

“Securing product now will eliminate volatility and ensure that budgets are met,” states the document.

Lauretti said a key to saving money will be staying on top of always-changing energy costs. “Someone has to pay attention to the prices,” he said.