Vermont college opens CHP biomass plant

By Lisa Gibson
Earth Day (April 22) brought a fitting and special occasion for Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vt. The campus celebrated the official opening and operation of its combined-heat-and-power biomass facility, which provides 85 percent of the school's heat and generates 20 percent of its electricity.

The event marked a major step in the college's goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2011 through an emission reduction of more than 50 percent, which makes it the first higher education institution in the nation with that distinction, according to the college. A handful of colleges have claimed complete climate neutrality, but largely through the purchase of carbon credits.

The CHP facility will burn 4,000 to 5,000 tons of locally harvested wood chips each year, with No. 6 fuel serving as a backup mainly to heat campus buildings, according to GMC. The plant will reduce annual net greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources on campus from 2007 levels of 3,420 metric tons of carbon dioxide to 546 metric tons. The $5.8 million plant will pay for itself over 18 years through savings on fuel costs, according to the school.

The project is largely a result of student activism, stemming from a proposal written for a 2005 honors seminar to study the feasibility of a new biomass heating plant. The students convinced their peers that the study was worth $10,000 in student activities money and when current President Paul Fonteyn assumed his duties in July 2008, he made the plant one of his first priorities, according to GMC.

At least nine courses this past year focused on some aspect of the biomass plant and use of wood as a fuel source. GMC also sees the facility as an in-class educational resource for students and will employ real-time data streaming from the plant on its Web site.