PRESQUE ISLE, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- The Aroostook Medical Center is the largest employer in Aroostook County. It is also one of the biggest energy consumers in the region.

"Annually we burn 400,000 to 500,000 gallons ofNo. 2oil in heating,and we are kind of unique because we use it in the summertime for cooling as well,"explained Jim McKinney, the hospital's Vice Presidentof Diagnostic and Support Services."We actually burn a little bit more fuel in the summertime cooling than we do in the winter for heating."

"It is $1.2 million plus that we spend in No. 2 oil annually," he added.

Faced with increasing energy costs, TAMC invested roughly $300,000 to convert their heating and cooling systems to one that uses compressed natural gas.

"We expect to save $500,000 annually, so the payback time is literally in months," stated McKinney.

Compressed natural gas technology is new to Maine. It allows natural gas to be taken directly from a pipeline, dried for quality purposes, and then compressed into specially designed tanks. Those tanks then can be trucked basically anywhere, helping communities that do not have access to a natural gas pipeline take advantage of the savings natural gas can provide to large energy users.

"We looked at geothermal. We looked at coal.We looked at wood pellets. We looked at biomass. We looked at wind. We looked at solar and this clearly, because of the captial investment up front, was clearly the most attractive option for us," Gene Lynch, TAMC's chairman for the capital committee explained.

"The savings start almost the minute we light the first fire," added Lynch.

The project, the first of its kind in Maine, was attractive to the hospital, not only forits considerable financial impact, but also because natural gas is a more environmentally friendly energy source as well.

The hospital says they intend to reinvest the money they save on their energy bills to acquire more advanced medical equipment,with the conversion,in essence, helping the hospital save not just money, but lives.

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