Biomass power developers eye renovated Vt. industrial site

By Luke Geiver | December 28, 2011

A proposed biomass combined-heat-and-power (CHP) facility for Springfield, Vt., will not only provide cost effective energy to the community, but will also be an economic driver for Vermont, according to Dan Ingold, senior technical director for Weston Solutions.

Ingold and his team at Weston Solutions, an environmental consulting company, has partnered with Massachusetts-based Winstanley Enterprises, a real estate development and investment group, to convert a once shuttered industrial building on a 215-acre site into an industrial park powered by woody biomass. The facility is expected to produce between 25 MW and 35MW, and will create nearly 400 jobs during construction, with another 160 permanent jobs once operational.

A thermal loop will allow businesses located on or near the industrial site to subsidize heating costs by utilizing the heat generated from the biomass facility. “The heating costs for industrial commercial plants in Vermont are high, so to be able to have a subsidized cost relative to that heat, and be able to minimize your capital cost outlay for not having to put your own boilers in, is going to make it very attractive,” Ingold added.

 “I think this is an incredible opportunity for Vermont,” he said.

That opportunity is based on the positive aspects of the existing site where the biomass facility will be located, according to Ingold. The facility will be on a 20-acre portion of flat ground adjacent to the existing building on the 215-acre plot. “It is an area that our wood studies have shown has more than sufficient wood supply readily available within 30 miles,” Ingold said. In addition to feedstock supply studies and truck traffic assessments supplied by Eric Kingsley, vice president of Innovative Natural Resources, the team of Weston and Winstanley has also used Waldron Engineering out of New Hampshire for preliminary design work. Although the equipment and technology set for the facility has not yet been chosen, Ingold hopes to use a fluidized bed reactor and make the final equipment decisions over the next six months.

The project, named the North Springfield Sustainable Energy Project (NSSEP), has been in development for several years. Adam Winstanley, principal of Winstanley Enterprises, was first introduced to the building on the NSSEP site in 2005. After $10 million in renovations, three successful companies began leasing space in the building and during the renovation process, Winstanley also learned that the building was connected to Southern Vermont’s electrical grid. But he said he didn’t know anything about biomass power at that time. Over the next few years, Winstanley spoke with several state officials and power plant developers about the possibility of a biomass power facility located on his property. “Most people, if not everyone, were very much in favor of the project because it would generate a lot of in-state jobs and have cost effective green power,” he said.

After partnering with Ingold, Winstanley and Weston have now submitted a certificate of public good to the Vermont Public Service Board. In Vermont, any generating asset for electricity has to go through a process that includes public meetings where testimony, including feasibility studies, is reviewed by the Vermont Public Service Board to determine the impact a project will have on the citizens of the community. The public meetings will happen over the next six months, and Adam Winstanley is confident about the public support for the project. “Our company has generated a lot of jobs in Vermont, and I’m a big believer in this biomass plant because it has cost effective energy and it also generates a lot of jobs,” he said. “The thermal loop will attract a lot of companies.”

The expected start date for the plant is mid-2014, and it will generate nearly $3 million per year in state revenue upon completion. Almost $15 million will be spent on woody biomass feedstock per year, according to Winstanley.