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Methane project expected to cut energy costs

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Print this page Heather B. Hayes

Rising energy bills are to blame for at least some of the increasing cost of health care, but that soon won’t be the case at Rockingham Memorial Hospital (RMH). The independent community hospital in Harrisonburg recently received a $583,848 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) State Energy Program grant so that it can expand its use of methane gas as a power source.  Officials say methane gas will save the institution an average of $250,000 a year.

The new RMH building is scheduled for opening this June. The methane gas it will use is produced at the nearby Rockingham County Landfill. The hospital will use it to heat the facility in the winter and year-round to power hot-water heaters and to sterilize and steam-clean surgical instruments and medical equipment.

When construction began on the new hospital, officials were able to invest in one methane-enabled boiler but didn’t have enough capital for its two other boilers, which rely on natural gas. The grant provides the capital needed for all three to run on methane. This enables the hospital to run one boiler all year for cleaning purposes, one in the wintertime for heating the building and one as a backup in case of a breakdown or routine maintenance.

There’s enough grant money left over to methane-enable boilers at the hospital’s next project, a stand-alone women’s health center that will also be located on the 254-acre hospital campus, according to Dennis Coffman, the hospital’s director of facilities planning and development.

Relying on methane provides a number of benefits to the hospital, Coffman says. The hospital has a contract with the county to buy methane at a fixed rate for 10 years. The fixed rate enables the hospital to avoid problems with price volatility. Even this year when natural gas prices were fairly low, Coffman explains, the exclusive use of methane for heating and cleaning purposes would have saved the hospital $100,000 in energy costs. In 2008, when natural gas prices were high, the hospital would have spent $500,000 less.

“The methane production is within a mile and a half of the hospital, and we’re the only customer using it,” Coffman states. “That translates into dependability and reliability and at a low, fixed price. That ultimately will translate into dollar savings that will help the hospital absorb and contain some of these rising health- care costs.”


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