Vermont college opens CHP biomass plant

By Lisa Gibson
Posted April 20, 2010, at 4:47 p.m. CST

Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vt., celebrated Earth Day (April 22) with the official opening and operation of its combined-heat-and-power biomass facility, which will provide 85 percent of the school's heat and generate 20 percent of its electricity.

The event marks a major step in the college's goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2011 through an emission reduction of more than 50 percent, which would make it the first higher education institution in the nation with the 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 (GHG) 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 by 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 year have 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.