City, Borough Buildings Switching to Natural Gas

Ariel Van Cleave

     More and more buildings around Homer are hooking up to the natural gas distribution system now that the first section is complete. And some of those include city- and borough-owned facilities.

     Phase one construction of the system finished up in the fall. That made it possible for buildings like Homer City Hall, the library and animal shelter to hook up and start burning natural gas for warmth. City Manager Walt Wrede told the city council during its meeting Jan. 13 that he was glad it was finally happening.

     “I think that’s something everybody should celebrate. It’s been a long time coming. There’s been a lot of work, and a lot of anxiety and hand-wringing. Hopefully we’re going to be saving money and we’re reducing our greenhouse gasses,” he said.

     City officials have estimated there could be about $9,600 in savings alone with the conversion to city hall. It’s been projected the library could save almost $24,000 every year by switching from heating oil. Wrede said the airport terminal is next on the list for conversion and the rest of the city buildings will be connected after phase two of construction. That’s set to start up again during the spring. 

     Wrede also mentioned he expects the payback period for city hall, the library and airport terminal to be about one year. 

     School buildings in Homer also are converting over to natural gas.

     “We’re very pleased that the borough is working diligently to convert the boilers at Paul Banks, West Elementary, Homer Middle and Homer High School,” Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent Dr. Steve Atwater said.

     He said was initially expecting the district would save around $260,000 each year with those schools. But savings could be much higher once all the work is complete by the end of this year.

     “That number will be higher because the cost of the heating oil that we’re using right now is higher. We’re estimating to be closer to $400,000 in savings by the time that we’re done. So we’re very much looking forward to the natural gas boilers coming online so that the district can begin the realize savings,” Atwater said. 

     The conversion process is being paid for through in-kind services from the borough as well capital projects funding from the district’s coffers.

     “The Homer High School is being converted with maintenance money, which is in-kind money. And that’s a little bit more than $100,000. And then the other schools… Homer Middle, Paul Banks and also the Homer maintenance shop for the borough are being converted. That’s with capital projects money… those amounts are totaling about $235,000. So the borough is spending a fair amount of money to make this work, but obviously it’s a good move,” he said. 

     Atwater said Paul Banks, West Homer, Homer Middle and Homer High should be converted by sometime next month. Homer Flex will switch over in the summer.