Outreach effort proves successful for proposed biomass plant

By Luke Geiver | June 20, 2012

A community outreach program spearheaded by Weston Solutions, an environmental consulting company, has moved a proposed biomass combined-heat-and-power (CHP) facility one giant step closer to completion in Springfield, Vermont. Dan Ingold, senior technical director for Weston Solutions, has spent nearly three months this year stationed at the proposed site, named the North Springfield Sustainable Energy Project (NSSEP), every Tuesday and Thursday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. to answer questions or ease concerns of local citizens and city officials.

The idea for the open door meeting times, Ingold said, came after a series of public meetings on the proposed facility. “We recognized that a lot of people are somewhat shy in public forums,” he explained, but through the Tuesday and Thursday sessions, Ingold and his team were able to personally go over questions.

Over the course of 10 weeks, he said more than 100 people visited the industrial park and building facility where the plant will go. “The idea is to have a no-pressure environment,” he said, where people can enter without being surrounded by 10 experts. For the first three months Ingold spent more than $200 each month on coffee and donuts for those who visited. But, according to Ingold, what his team learned through the process has helped them not only earn the public’s support, but also improve on the initial plant designs. That $200 per month however, has added an extra $3-$8 million onto the capital costs required to build the facility, an expense Ingold said will be worth the money.

Through the outreach effort, the joint venture team of Weston Solutions and Winstanley Enterprises, a local commercial real estate developer helping to retrofit a shuttered building site, learned that the main concerns people of the area were voicing were based on pre-existing conditions. According to Ingold, the entre municipality water supply is sourced from one area and well, creating a concern that a biomass power plant would reduce the amount of water available to the community. Although initial plans for the biomass facility included a water-based cooling system that would consume roughly 450,000 gallons of water per day, evaporating 75 percent of that for cooling purposes, Ingold and his team said they took the water concerns of the area and changed their design plans.

“We really thought if we want to be a long term community good neighbor we ought to think about alternatives,” he said. That alternative is a dry cooling system similar to a radiator used in cars. The system, a hexacool modular unit provided by SPX Cooling Technology Limited, is used in Europe at several biomass facilities, according the Ingold. From the top, the system appears a six radiator type structures in a hexagon. A fan to circulate the air is located at the top of the module. The units will only require the plant to use 23,000 gallons per day, and according to Ingold, will reduce the amount of parasitic electricity loss in the overall system. Although the units cost more because of the steel footprint and the greater amount of materials required, Ingold said history shows that dry cooling systems operations costs are lower over a ten year period than a water cooling system.

While the number of people visiting the proposed cite has dwindled and the support for the plant has greatly improved, Ingold said he plans to cut back on the open door hours. The expected operations date of the facility is mid-2014.

To learn more about the project, please see “Biomass power developers eye renovated Vt. industrial site.”