Climate activists say Burlington Electric plan would increase emissions from McNeil plant, already state’s largest CO2 emitter
Monday, following a voicemail campaign to UVM Medical Center leadership last Thursday, a group of concerned UVMMC customers and climate activists staged a ‘die-in’ adjacent to the main hospital entrance in an effort to amp up pressure on the hospital to decline signing onto the $42 million “district heat” project with Burlington Electric and Vermont Gas.
According to a Stop VT Biomass statement, the die-in comes less than two weeks following a more vocal protest at the Burlington “Not Zero” Energy festival in which the 75 foot snake puppet “steamy,” representing the District Heat steam pipeline, captured the attention of festival goers.
Burlington Electric has been negotiating a contract with the hospital whereby UVMMC would purchase steam piped two-miles up to the hospital from McNeil generating plant to replace its existing gas heating system. The proposal represents the latest iteration of a 40 year old idea to use what BED terms “waste” heat from McNeil. However, according to BED- commissioned studies, the actual “waste heat” recovered is minimal, and the district heat proposal would require 8% more wood to be burned at the McNeil biomass plant, already the largest stationary source of CO2 emissions in the state.
Steve Goodkind, retired longtime Burlington Public Works director, who was taking photos and discussing the project with passersby, said: “The hospital is about to make a decision on a project that will pump more CO2 into the atmosphere than their existing heating system and lock in reliance on an old polluting plant that needs to be phased out. The project wasn’t a good idea before, and it still isn’t after the 5th time, especially now that we’re in a climate emergency.”
Protesters yesterday lay on the sun-drenched pavers in front of the hospital during an October week that will likely break Burlington temperature records. Those lying down held tombstone shaped signs. One sign read: “UVMMC: Say No to Wood-Fired District Heat.” They voiced several concerns about “District Heat” from McNeil: “Yes, there’s the added CO2, but we also need to recognize that this project would saddle us with massive CO2 emissions from the McNeil for years, including deadly particulates and VOCs into the surrounding community. Why would a hospital sign on to that, especially given that hospitals are on the front lines of climate related illness and death?” said Ashley Adams, an organizer with Stop Vermont Biomass.
UVM Medical Center has won several awards for sustainability and proclaims it is committed to becoming the most environmentally responsible health care organization in the country. Standing in front of the modern main pavilion entrance to the hospital, Laura Simon, a social worker and teacher, wondered about the disconnect between the hospital’s stated goals and the deeply flawed “district heat” proposal, asking “in a year when Vermonters have been smoked out and flooded out due to climate driven catastrophes, will hospital leaders remember their commitments to human health and the environment? The very mission of this hospital is to care for people. The last thing it should be doing is contributing to deteriorating health outcomes for the population it serves.”
Stop Vermont Biomass is planning a virtual showing of the movie Burned: Are Trees the New Coal at 7pm on October 19th in an effort to raise awareness of hazards of burning trees for electricity. A link to the showing will be posted on their website.
– Lightly-edited version of a Stop Vermont Biomass press release received Wednesday, October 4.