Montpelier to revote on biomass district heating project

By Anna Simet | August 28, 2012

On Aug. 22, the Montpelier, Vt., city council voted 4-2 to axe a biomass district heating project that has been in the works for several years, citing concerns about financial risks.

The project is not dead yet, however, and will undergo another vote on Aug. 29, a special meeting likely prompted by negative public reaction.

The council originally voted to move forward with the project in June of 2011, which gave the city the go-ahead to borrow $2.75 million for the $20 million project to replace an old state-owned district heating plant with a new biomass plant. The existing facility has heated the state government complex for more than 20 years and the new project will also include an expansion of the distribution system to allow heat delivery to city government buildings, as well as some schools and other downtown structures.

The project had received $7 million in state funding and a matching payment in federal funds, and seemed to have plenty of support on the state, federal and local levels. Montpelier Mayor John Hollar stated that if the vote had been even, he would have voted in favor of the project to break the tie.

Gwendolyn Hallsmith, director of planning and community development for Montpelier and another avid supporter of the project, said it is expected that the council will reverse their vote, and that it was actually not their intent to kill the project. “Since the vote, they have been subject to the largest outpouring of voter outrage this city has ever experienced, at least in my memory,” she said.

If the vote is reversed, the city will continue to move forward with the project, which is expected to be completed during the fall of 2013.