City of Montpelier, Vt., develops biomass district heat project

By Chris Hanson | April 30, 2013

Montpelier, Vt., broke ground in mid-April on its biomass thermal project to serve downtown public and private buildings.

The project, a joint undertaking by the city and state government, will feature a biomass heating plant to be built upon the existing boiler facility in downtown Montpelier and the installation of new hot water distribution lines that will stretch more than a half mile to an elementary school and a police station.

Construction will be completed in phases throughout the summer of 2013, the first of which broke ground on April 16 to install new piping along the heat distribution route on State Street. Once complete, the new biomass boilers will provide 41 million Btu of biomass-derived heat to 22 state- and city-owned buildings with potential for an additional 8.1 million Btu for other neighboring buildings. 

The heating facility will consume 12,200 tons of green woodchips annually, sourced from local and forested areas in the northeast region of the U.S. and possibly some parts of Canada. William Fraser, city manager of Montpelier, said early models of the facility had it functioning as a cogeneration plant to generate electricity for government buildings, but heat generation is currently the primary focus. 

“It is the most complex project we have ever worked on in local government,” Fraser said, “but we’re putting the lines in the ground as we speak and we’re underway.” He cited that the project was temporarily voted down by the city council in August 2012 until terms with the state were corrected. Additionally, the project requires collaboration with the city and state’s budgets and schedules.

After two weeks of construction, Fraser reports the project is steadily progressing and there has not been anything out of the ordinary witnessed so far. “We’re hopeful that the state will wrap up their permitting and be able to move into their construction season and we’ll be running the system next winter,” Fraser continued.