By Guy Page
The City of Burlington’s plan to heat city buildings with excess heat from the McNeil power plant has gotten the cold shoulder from the biomass task group of the Vermont Climate Council (VCC).
The appointed Council is charged by the Legislature to advance plans to reduce carbon emissions by 90% by 2050. If the biomass committee recommendation is adopted by the Vermont Climate Council, the city’s plans could be met by opposition at the state level.
On December 5, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger announced a ready for Act 250 review a long-planned ‘District Energy System’ project to heat UVM, hospital, and state buildings with excess heat from the burning of woodchips and natural gas from the McNeil power plant.
But on December 1, the Biomass Task Group of the VCC seemed to pour cold water on the biomass plant expansion – and indeed, on all biomass-fueled power generation in Vermont.
“New electric-led generation biomass facilities in the State of Vermont should not be used,” the biomass report states. “The Ryegate and McNeil facilities should not be expanded to increase the currently permitted hourly output capacity, physically or otherwise. Furthermore, the facilities should strive to use less biomass overall than they do currently.”
In fact, both McNeil and Ryegate should plan to stop using biomass entirely, the task force urged the VCC to recommend.
“The Vermont Climate Council recommends that the State plan and prepare for the phase out of wood biomass electricity generation at the McNeil and Ryegate facilities and the phase up of other energy sources, complemented with other important actions such as efficiency and consumption reduction,” the Dec. 1 report said.
The report also called for an investigation of the climate and forestry impacts of the McNeil District Energy System.
The study should examine “implications for phase out in relation to the long-proposed McNeil plant expansion for co-generation of thermal heat for district heating. This review will need to include as part of that scope reviewing the long-proposed expansion of the McNeil facility to accommodate wood combustion for thermal heat production – whether as co-generation from electricity production or as a thermal-only replacement for a phased-out electricity generating plant.”
It should also examine air quality, public health, and the site’s ‘highly sensitive archeology.’
“In addition to climate and forest implications, the investigation must examine impacts on air quality, emissions, and the health of residents of the adjacent communities. If a thermal-only alternative is advanced, siting should be considered particularly in relation to over-burdened communities. It must also include a full equity assessment which will involve the Just Transitions Subcommittee and the tools developed in support of the Climate Action Plan. McNeil is on land that is listed on the state historical site for the most highly sensitive archaeology in the state so cultural resources must be addressed as well.
It’s likely many of the issues raised by the Biomass Committee will be addressed in the project’s Act 250 review.