VTDigger: Neighbors challenge Goddard College wood chip heating system

Jan 20, 2012 No Comments by

Reposted from VTDigger.


A proposed wood chip heating system at Goddard College has a group of Plainfield neighbors feeling burned.

In November, the Plainfield Development Review Board approved the college’s proposal.


Worried about the proximity of the proposed building to their homes and potential health issues, a group of neighbors challenged the town’s decision to the Vermont Environmental Court.


Rhea Wilson, who can see the proposed site from her house, says she worries about particulates coming from burning wood chips.


“These small particulates in particular are really dangerous for your lungs,” Wilson said.


While Goddard proposes putting in a state-of-the-art scrubber, she said she is even more concerned by the 43 schools in the state that use similar technologies to heat their buildings.


“What bothers me most is that all these little schools have wood boilers,” Wilson said. “They don’t have any scrubbers. Those are spewing out these particulates, and no one’s looking into any of that.”


Wilson is listed on the appeal to the Vermont Environmental Court filed Dec. 26. She poses a list of questions to the court, including whether pollutants from the system will be detrimental to the health of nearby residents.


Another neighbor, Ken Smith, said he thinks the new facility across the street is going to lower his property value. He wishes the college would site its system somewhere else.


“It’s the closest possible spot to the neighborhood,” Smith said. “Goddard’s got a lot of land. They could put it somewhere not so close to their neighbors.”


Faith Brown, chief finance and administrative officer for Goddard College, said since she started work there in July, she has seen the college try to address all the neighbors’ concerns. Although the facility and its 35-foot chimney are small enough that they do not require a permit, Goddard opted to put in a state-of-the-art scrubber.


“We’re doing everything and beyond what is required in Vermont,” Brown said.


Goddard is following the lead of public schools and Middlebury College that already heat with wood chips. The system will replace heating oil as the institution’s source of heat.


Tim Maker, who runs Community Biomass Systems, is acting as the project manager for the Goddard project. Maker has worked for more than 25 years on similar projects in schools. Some of them have scrubbers with “multi-cyclone” technology that reduces the amount of particulates emitted from burning wood chips.


“Goddard has committed to the highest level of emissions controls,” he said.


In the summer, Goddard contracted with Resource Systems Group to conduct an air quality analysis for the project, which was not required under state or federal law. Because wood chip heating systems like the one planned at Goddard heat to a much higher temperature than wood stoves, the report states, they do not smoke or produce a campfire smell. With the addition of the electrostatic precipitator, 90 percent of the solid particulates will be removed during the process.


Goddard’s plant will produce 11 percent of the of the small particulates (called PM 2.5) for a 24-hour period that are allowed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. It will produce 23 percent of the nitrogen dioxide allowed hourly when operating.


While Wilson worries about schools using these systems, Maker said about a third of all students in the state go to a school with a similar wood chip heating system, and there have been no reported health problems whatsoever.


“From my perspective, I just don’t see where there’s a problem,” Maker said.


The wood boiler will likely use about 1,000 tons of clean green wood chips each year, according to the study. Goddard has not yet determined where it will harvest the wood, but Brown said it should all be within 30 to 50 miles.


As for forest sustainability, Maker said, 1,000 tons of wood a year is not a lot compared to large electric generating facilities. To put it in perspective, the McNeil Generating Station in Burlington and the Ryegate Power Plant combined consume roughly 435,000 green tons of harvested chips annually.


Combined, all of the small heating systems in the state would produce loosely around 10 percent of the amount of the two large stations.


“It’s not going to make a statistical difference,” Maker said.


Jamey Fidel, general counsel for the Vermont Natural Resources Council and a member of the state Biomass Energy Development Working Group, said there is a serious debate going on over the right amount of wood to harvest for biomass and how to do it right. Conflicting scientific studies challenge whether shifting to greater reliance on wood biomass energy will increase net greenhouse gas emissions or whether it may be carbon neutral.


“From an efficiency perspective, if there is going to be growth in the future, it should be on the thermal side,” Fidel said.


That’s because using wood for heat is far more efficient than electric biomass because the system effectively uses the produced heat directly rather than using it to heat water to generate electricity.


While the working group has not focused on particulates, Fidel said it is recommending additional study on air quality issues.


Despite seemingly strong support for using biomass at least on the thermal side, Wilson and other neighbors are still not convinced. They are asking the Environmental Court to determine whether emissions from the plant will cause harm to residents; whether it will cause odors, noise or light that bothers the neighbors; and if the 35-foot chimney is compatible with the surrounding neighborhood.


The college is also in the process of obtaining an Act 250 permit under the state’s land use law for the boiler.

Articles, Biomass, Latest News, Renewables

About the author

The author didnt add any Information to his profile yet
No Responses to “VTDigger: Neighbors challenge Goddard College wood chip heating system”

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.