Montpelier declares first district heating season a success

Heat Plant

Will Colgan (right) of NECI speaks about his experience with Montpelier’s district heat system Friday. He was joined by Montpelier Mayor John Hollar (left) and City Manager Bill Fraser. Photo by Amy Ash Nixon/VTDigger

More than 20 downtown Montpelier buildings — including city hall, the police and fire stations, the elementary school, two churches and several private buildings — were heated last winter for the first time by a new state heating plant.

On Friday, city and state officials, the contractor who installed the system — the first in New England, according to Montpelier Mayor John Hollar — and one of the private customers who purchases heat from the system celebrated the project’s first winter heating season.

District Heat Montpelier is a municipal utility that purchases biomass energy produced by the plant and distributes it via a network of underground pipes carrying hot water to customers connected to the system. The plant, located behind the Department of Motor Vehicles, burns wood chips to produce hot water.

The first year of the system was deemed a success, with strong, reliable heat delivered and no problems reported, officials said.

Also on hand at Friday’s ceremony were Montpelier City Manager William Fraser; Assistant City Manager Jessie Baker; Montpelier Energy Committee Chairman Tim Shea; New England Culinary Institute staff member Will Colgan; and several others with a hand in the project’s development and operations, including TJ Kingsbury of Kingsbury Companies LLC, which installed the underground system in downtown Montpelier, and project manager Harold Garabedian.

Hollar, who works at the State Street law firm of Downs Rachlin Martin, said his office is one of those private buildings connected to District Heat Montpelier. He said that during this past winter, one of the coldest on record, “The heat was always on, it was always reliable.”

The same was reported by Colgan, who said the restaurant run by the culinary school on Main Street had an aging heating system and joining the system was a good decision.

“It performed really well, it’s been really good,” he said.

Hollar said the project goes a long way toward the city’s goal of Net Zero Montpelier, which aims to have Montpelier be the first state capital to obtain all its energy from renewable sources by 2030.

Fraser said he recalled someone talking about something like the underground heating system being developed downtown, and at the time, it seemed “far fetched,” but said today that far-fetched idea is benefiting the city’s environment and making a significant dent in its reliance on fossil fuels.

“Twenty years later, we’re here celebrating,” Fraser said.

Fraser said the system was “pushed to its limits and it worked” this winter.

Shea, chair of the city’s energy advisory committee, said the city plans to bring in more customers.

District Heat Montpelier was designed with capacity for adding in more customers, and that may happen in another year, said Fraser, saying with the first heating season now completed, the city will analyze how the system’s inaugural heating season went.

In 2003, voters in Montpelier approved spending $250,000 in a bond for the project. The city was later awarded $8 million from the Department of Energy to make the major project possible.

A mini-system to pilot the new District Heat system began in December 2013, and the full commercial launch was in October of last year.

According to a news release issued by the city Friday, the system is credited with reducing emissions from fuel combustion by as much as 11 tons a year.

The wood chips used to generate the steam, which is converted to hot water for the system, are sourced regionally in New England, including from Vermont, said Julie O’Tool Gutgsell, operations chief for the state Department of Buildings and General Services.

A total of 411,000 square feet of space in downtown Montpelier are heated through District Heat Montpelier, Assistant City Manager Jessie Baker said.

A few of the benefits of the system were highlighted in the city’s news release:

• Fuel cost stabilization for city government and the school department allowing tax dollars to potentially be redirected toward services or infrastructure rather than to pay rising oil prices;
• Keeping economic activity in the Northeast by buying wood chips from the region rather than more than 300,000 gallons of oil;
• An economic development opportunity in downtown Montpelier by providing a cleaner and potentially cheaper source of heat for private building owners;
• The removal of many private oil furnaces and underground fuel oil storage tanks to be removed from potential flood areas.

Amy Ash Nixon

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18 Comments on "Montpelier declares first district heating season a success"

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Michael Taub
1 year 2 months ago

Such a shame that they didn’t recognize Gwendolyn Hallsmith, Montpelier’s former planning director, who got the grant for this project and along with Mr. Garabedian got this project going.

Brenda Lindemann
1 year 2 months ago

I was thinking the same thing.

Willem Post
1 year 2 months ago

“Twenty years later, we’re here celebrating,” Fraser said.

Celebrating?

Fuel oil heat to buildings = 300,000 gallon x 140,000 Btu/gal x assumed efficiency* 0.70 = 29,400,000,000 Btu/yr for 411,000 sq ft of buildings, or 71,532 Btu/sq ft/yr just for heating.

* Assumed efficiency includes boiler and distribution system.

Either these buildings are total energy hogs, or my assumed efficiency is much too high.

Glenn Thompson
1 year 2 months ago

Willem,

How much more efficient is a wood burning boiler compared to a oil fired boiler?

I thought the purpose of going ‘green’ was to eliminate CO2 emissions? Burning wood certainly doesn’t accomplish that!

Willem Post
1 year 2 months ago

Glenn,

It depends on the wood fuel. It could be chips or pellets. The less moisture in the wood fuel, the better.

Fuel oil does not have that moisture problem.

A fuel oil-fired boiler, with the same capacity, Btu/hr, as a wood-fired boiler, has a higher efficiency.

Willem Post
1 year 2 months ago
Addition: Here are some calculations on the economics of the District Heat Montpelier plant. The renovated City of Montpelier district heating plant has a capacity of 40 million Btu/hr, and heats a total area of 411,000 sq ft with a steam loop and a hot water loop. Heating that building area requires about 24.66 million Btu/yr, or about 61% of the plant capacity, at an assumed 60 Btu/sq ft. The renovation cost was $15 million for the plant and $5 million for the hot water loop. The $20 million was financed with a $250,000 City bond in 2003, an $8… Read more »
Keith Stern
1 year 2 months ago

Wet wood chips are more polluting and less efficient than a new oil burning furnace. But it’s green energy. What a joke.

Willem Post
1 year 2 months ago
Addition to above comment: “According to a news release issued by the city Friday, the system is credited with reducing emissions from fuel combustion by as much as 11 tons a year.” Wood-burning power plants would require cutting trees and burning them, which emits just as much CO2/kWh as coal, which may have an immediate, adverse global warming impact, plus emits at least as much air-borne, health-damaging particulate as coal. Wood-burning proponents and governments claim burning wood is “CO2-neutral”. They purposely forget to add: “over a period of about 100 years.” Global warming is a problem now. Forests from which… Read more »
Willem Post
1 year 2 months ago
Addition to above comment: Example of other energy-hog buildings: NY State Office Building Campus/SUNY-Albany Campus; average 186,000 Btu/sq ft/yr. Source: a study I did in the 80s. Vermont State Government buildings; average 107,000 Btu/sq ft/yr. Not much can be done with such buildings other than taking them down to the steel structure and start over. http://www.publicassets.org/PAI-IB0806.pdf Example of energy efficient buildings: Building energy demand management using smart metering, smart buildings (including increased insulation and sealing, efficient windows and doors, entries with airlocks, variable speed motors, automatic shades on the outside of windows, Hitachi high efficiency absorption chillers, plate heat exchangers,… Read more »
Deborah Tyson
1 year 2 months ago

How many trees will be destroyed to use this system? Thats the problem its the future your leaving out. No to this idea.

Willem Post
1 year 2 months ago

Deborah,

Heat from the fuel oil = 300,000 gal/yr x 140,000 Btu/gal = 42,000,000,000 Btu/yr

If wood chips, 45% moisture @ 7,600,000 Btu/ton, about 5,526 ton/yr would be required, about 200 truck loads of 28 ton each.

If wood pellets, 10% moisure @ 16,000,000 Btu/ton, about 2,625 ton/yr would be required.

NOTE: The above assumes the wood burning efficiency is the same as the oil burning efficiency, so the overall system efficiency remains unchanged. See my above 10:25 pm comment.

Willem Post
1 year 2 months ago

Addition:

A cord of hardwood has 18 – 24 million Btu and weighs 4,000 – 5,000 lb/cord.

Taking about 1/2 a cord per acre per year is alleged to be sustainable, but in fact it merely slows down the depletion rate of the soil.

Willem Post
1 year 2 months ago
Addition: Deborah, It takes about 2.5 ton of wood chips to make a cord. The above 5,526 ton of chips would be 2,210 cords, which would need to be harvested from 4,421 acres to be “sustainable”, by some people’s definition. Typically, trucks have to drive 15 – 25 miles to get to the wood chips to the wood burning plant, and then drive back to get some more. The delivered cost of wood chips is about $55/ton. There is nothing to celebrate having such a wood burning plant. Such building heating systems are based on, 100-year-old, bygone technology. This is… Read more »
1 year 2 months ago

The State Steam Plant produces steam, not hot water in its two AFS wood-chip burning boilers. It maintains one oil-burning boiler for system, startup and backup. The City derives its hot water through heat exchangers located at the rear of the Steam Plant, in a locked area called the City Room. For more information, see: http://www.districtenergy.org/blog/2014/08/05/city-of-montpelier-vt-finalizes-district-heating-rates/

Willem Post
1 year 2 months ago
Len, Thank you for the info. As a result, I was able to complete my analysis of the economics of the heating plant. Also, someone mentioned a May 2 press release which has wood chip and fuel oil use for a partial heating season of October 1 to 28 February 28. It turned out my assumptions were close to reality, except for the use of No.2 fuel oil, which is much greater than I expected. The conclusions regarding the economics remain unchanged. This is an extremely uneconomic project. A perfect example of the state’s wasteful meddling in energy. Here are… Read more »
Willem Post
1 year 2 months ago
Addition: $90,563 should read $81,191, which is the amount available for O&M, staffing, etc. This likely is at least $250,000 less than needed. The financing cost on the $20 million project is completely ignored. Project cost: Plant ……………………………$15 million Distribution………………….. $5 million “Financing”: USDOE grant………………….$8 million Montpelier bond…………$0.25 million State, City, CEDF, etc….$11.75 million The cost of the fuel mix, wood chips and No, 2, is about $9.37/million Btu and that is about the price at which the heat is “sold” to users. This is a very good deal for users, but a very bad deal for other Vermonters. More… Read more »
Willem Post
1 year 2 months ago
Addition: “According to a news release issued by the city Friday, May 1, 2005, the system is credited with reducing CO2 emissions from fuel combustion by as much as 11 tons a year.” Below are some calculations showing an INCREASE in annual CO2 emissions. CO2 Emissions of Wood Chips: The estimated CO2 emissions would be as follows: ……………………lb/million Btu……….million Btu/yr……………..lb/yr…………ton/yr Combustion………195.00……………….42,000 x 0.85…………6,961,500 Harvest, Process, Transport…………………………………………….219,755 Total…………………………………………………………………………..7,181,255………3591 CO2 Emissions of No. 2 Fuel Oil: The estimated CO2 emissions would be as follows: ……………………lb/million Btu……..million Btu/yr………………lb/yr…………ton/yr Combustion………163.00……………..42,000 x 0.15………….1,026,900 Production………….12.50……………..42,000 x 0.15………………78,750 Transport……………..0.63……………..42,000 x 0.15……………….3,969 Total………………………………………………………………………….1,109,619……….555 Total CO2 emissions of the… Read more »
Willem Post
1 year 2 months ago
Addition: The prior CO2 emissions are for an entire heating season and certain assumptions. The following CO2 emissions are based on ACTUAL fuel consumption for a PARTIAL heating season. CO2 Emissions for the PARTIAL Heating Season: “According to a news release issued by the city Friday, May 1, 2015, the system is credited with reducing CO2 emissions from fuel combustion by as much as 11 tons a year.” Combustion of the actual fuel quantities gives the following CO2 emissions for the partial heating season: …………………………………………..million Btu………………….lb………………..ton Wood chips ……………………………36,635………………….7,369,310………..3685 No. 2 fuel oil…………………………….5,500…………………….968,715………….484 Total………………………………………42,135………………………………………….4169; partial heating season 100% No. 2… Read more »
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