Burlington McNeil plant expansion runs afoul of Vermont Climate Council biomass group

Burlington Electric Dept. photo of McNeil plant

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. 

Categories: Energy

11 replies »

  1. If the VCC has the authority to dismiss the planning done by engineers and planners and officials and councils, perhaps Vermont could save millions by reducing the costly works and researches of those engineers, planners, officials and councils. To pay all these people to produce plans and also pay other people to cancel those plans seems so wasteful of taxpayers’ money. Agencies that do this these acts have beneficiaries of these actions, but does the environment? Taxpayers? Burlington’s buildings? Certainly not.

  2. An expected consequence, at least by those that remain capable of independent thought and analysis. Perhaps Guy should have added this item to the “You can’t make this stuff up” Dept.
    Better to let waste heat escape into the atmosphere for the McNeil plant, that reportedly operates at 24% efficency- than to capture it and use. Decisions from any
    council, board or individual associated with the GWSA mandate will follow along the
    lines of this decision. It’s still not about Carbon, CO2 nor any atmospheric gas. It is about wealth re-distribution and political power.

  3. Great – lets put a bunch more people out of work especially in the Vermont Lumber industry. If VCC gets their way, it looks like the lumber industry will then charge more for removal and not receive income from wood chip sales.

  4. So let’s just cut to the chase, none of these people know what they’re doing nor do they understand the consequences of their political power. Just tell people who live in cold Vermont that they can’t heat their homes to keep their families safe, warm and healthy. There comes a point in people’s lives when they are pushed and prodded too far. Of course, these politicos fail to study history. Even the most timid of humans will only take so much. It’s all a grand climate change party right now because the people haven’t seen the outcome. While the people are working to survive and they are too busy to see what these boards and councils are doing. When there’s no heat in the house, this will change.

    • These people do know what they are doing, get emotional satisfaction from doing it- and most really believe they are doing the right thing. The conditioning of thought regarding ‘climate change’ has been an ongoing process for over half a century. With multiple names, multiple timelines of catastrophic predictions- this is now finally sticking. Even our governor actually believes their is man-made climate change.
      An Individual Vermont resident’s choices are clear, accept the status quo or leave.
      There is no other choice at this point, the politics of the climate evangelist and grifter have overcome rational thought. As to 90% of the emotionally led politicians and residents of Vermont, I suspect Hanlon’s Razor applies.

      • Frank, I understand that they know what they’re doing. I meant in the historical sense. They have no idea of the ramifications of their actions based on a cult like belief that they are doing the right thing. They don’t allow for critical thinking pertaining to the end result. There is a certain degree of misery for lots of people with resulting stress. Historically, the peasants with pitch forks in hand will eventually protest. The degree of that protest will be determined by the misery these councils cause. My point is that they are so politically powerful in their minds and have been granted authority to do the legislatures work for them that they are ignoring to many things that will arise from their decisions. The possible list of misery resulting is too long to list here. The fact that the legislature shoved the power to an unelected board of bureaucrats is again border line unconstitutional.

    • No, the silly Climate Council needs to be investigated. Fraud. You grifters should be arrested.

      LinkedIn Bans Geologist for Posting the U.S. Government’s Own CO2 Graphs, Saying They Are “False” and “Not Allowed” – The Daily Sceptic

      “ current amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere are at their lowest levels in Earth’s history. The level has been falling steadily for over 140 million years. And of course they fail to show a link with temperature, which has risen and fallen throughout the period without any obvious connection. Alternative explanations, some more plausible than others, suggest different forms of plants and life evolved to cope with higher CO2 levels, the sun was cooler in the past, and recent increases in the gas are unprecedented.”

  5. This doesn’t need ant comment. From Vermont Digger .. in 2013 ..”Out of Vermont’s six big greenhouse gas polluters, the J.C. McNeil generating plant in Burlington’s Intervale polluted the most, accounting for 42 percent of the state’s large-facility emissions. Vermont’s largest biomass power plant released 355,606 metric tons of CO2e in 2011. Ninety-seven percent of that came from wood biomass; the rest was natural gas burned to meet electricity demand.”

  6. From an article in vermont digger in 2013…Out of Vermont’s six big greenhouse gas polluters, the J.C. McNeil generating plant in Burlington’s Intervale polluted the most, accounting for 42 percent of the state’s large-facility emissions. Vermont’s largest biomass power plant released 355,606 metric tons of CO2e in 2011. Ninety-seven percent of that came from wood biomass; the rest was natural gas burned to meet electricity deman

  7. In 2019, McNeil emitted .503 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. Half a million metric tons. The carbon will be re-sequestered so far in the future that it won’t help for the current problem. The soil carbon will recover in a much longer time than the above ground woody biomass – the trees and plants – will. The other species lost in that time might not recover at all, but instead join the other plants and animals that have been lost permanently. Forests are not only carbon. Let’s not lose sight of that.