New Biomass Plant Moves Green Mountain College Close to Carbon Neutrality

Apr 15, 2010, 11:16 ET from Green Mountain College

POULTNEY, Vt., April 15 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- According to Green Mountain College's official history, students living in the school's original academy building in 1837 were warmed by wood-burning stoves. Each student was responsible for toting wood up the stairs to his room in the evening, and each was required to keep a pail of sand nearby in the event of a fire.


Nearly two centuries later, campus buildings will again be heated with wood, this time using a decidedly different technology. When the College's new plant officially goes online on Earth Day, April 22, GMC will have taken a major step toward achieving its goal of climate neutrality by next year. Vermont Governor James Douglas will cut the ribbon to mark the official opening of the plant at a 10:30 a.m. ceremony.

"This is a great day in our history but it is also a great day for Vermont, and for all who are committed to finding solutions to a cleaner energy future," said Green Mountain College President Paul J. Fonteyn.

Instead of burning fuel oil, the new combined heat and power (CHP) biomass plant will burn woodchips, and is projected to provide 85% of the school's heat and generate 20% of its electricity. Number six fuel oil will now be used mainly as a backup to heat campus buildings. GMC estimates it will burn about 4,000-5,000 tons of locally harvested woodchips each year as the primary fuel. Net greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources on campus will be reduced from 2007 levels of 3420 metric tons to 546 metric tons of CO2 equivalent per year. The $5.8 million plant will pay for itself over eighteen years through savings on fuel costs.

Only a handful of colleges across the country have claimed complete climate neutrality, largely through purchasing of carbon credits. Green Mountain College expects to be the first higher education institution in the nation to be climate neutral by 2011 after having reduced its own emissions by over 50%.

In the new plant, woodchips are fed into a boiler and heated at a very high temperature with low oxygen, until the fuel smolders and emits gas. On the back side of boiler, oxygen is added and the gas ignites—the resulting steam is circulated through existing pipes for heat and hot water. The steam also activates a turbine which will produce 400,000 kWh of electricity.

Student activism was a key ingredient in convincing the administration to make the move to renewable energy. In 2005, students in a freshman honors seminar wrote a proposal to study the feasibility of a new biomass heating plant. Their proposal was accepted by the Student Campus Greening Fund (SCGF), a student-run program designed to help put into action initiatives that increase environmental awareness and decrease the school's ecological impact. Students convinced their peers that a feasibility study of biomass would be worth $10,000 in student activities money. When President Paul Fonteyn assumed his duties as president in July 2008, the biomass proposal was on his desk and he made it one of his first priorities.

"We see this as a key part of our plan to make GMC a model of sustainability for other colleges and the surrounding community," said the College's sustainability coordinator Amber Garrard. "It has allowed our students to use the campus as a living laboratory to reduce our ecological footprint. We've thoroughly integrated the biomass plant into our curriculum."

At least nine courses this year have focused on some aspect of the biomass plant and use of wood as a fuel source. GMC also envisions the biomass plant as an educational resource for students throughout the area, with real-time data streaming from the plant on the College's website that can be used in class projects.

"Green Mountain College is a national leader in finding ways to live sustainably," said President Fonteyn. "We feel a strong obligation to share what we've learned with outside audiences."

HP Cummings of Woodsville, N.H., managed construction for the project—the architect is Smith-Alvarez-Sienkiewycz of Burlington.

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SOURCE Green Mountain College