At Eureka School, it's a positive thing when the children get coal.
That's because the school switched to a coal-based heating system in 2008.
Since then, the school has saved about $40,000 to $50,000 on heating each year, Superintendent Bo Beck said.
When older boilers at the school had to be replaced, a decision had to be made.
"They were 50-plus years old and were in bad condition," Beck said. "They were leaking, and it was going to be a minimum of $25,000 for repairs."
So the district researched costs of various systems, including solar power, corn burner, geothermal energy, electricity and fuel oil, which the school had been using.
Some candidates were quickly eliminated. Solar energy was found to be an ineffective replacement.
The corn burner system would have only worked for half the school. A geothermal system would have cost $1.6 million.
"If we were building new, that would be the sensible choice," Beck said. "But it was cost-prohibitive."
The school had been spending about $42,000 on fuel oil each year with the old system.
"Fuel and oil costs were at an all-time high then," Beck said. "That was with fuel oil at about $3 a gallon."
It was decided coal would be the best way to heat the school, since coal prices generally stay steady. Some challenges came with convincing community members that a coal system would not spread ash all over the school and town.
"It's all regulated now, and there's filters," he said. "That was a concern of some people in town."
Beck visited Hettinger, N.D., and Lemmon to view their coal-heating systems.
"There wasn't coal ash around those towns, and we've never had a problem with it," he said.
Coal is brought in from Wyoming about six or seven times a year. The coal drops onto a conveyor system that puts it into the coal bin.
An automated system helps feed coal into the burners. The only work that needs to be done is the pushing of ashes to the back of the boiler once a day.
When that task is done, the ash is sucked out with the push of a button and deposited into a bin outside. That bin needs to emptied about two or three times a year.
"Coal won out with its cost-effectiveness," Beck said.
It cost $235,00 to install the coal-based heating system. Coal costs are usually about $20,000 annually, but it depends on the severity of winter weather.
According to projections, the school would be paying about $70,000 for fuel oil.
"We've been really happy with the savings and the efficiency of our heating system," Beck said. "The taxpayers are probably happy with the savings as well."
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