Norwich University unveils biomass heating plant

By Chris Hanson | October 25, 2013

Vermont's Norwich University celebrated the opening of its $6.2 million biomass heating plant Oct. 25.

The facility will source and combust 13,000 tons of wood chips annually from locally harvested wood sources within a 100 mile radius. “Over 80 percent of the wood comes from a state or federally approved forest management program with a balance coming from land that has been approved for clearing for agricultural or development purposes,” said Dave Magida, chief administrative officer at Norwich. “But all of the wood is harvested under Vermont’s Acceptable Management Practices program.”

The chips will be combusted in two boilers from Michigan-based Messersmith Manufacturing Inc. The system expected to produce 97 percent of the campus’ annual steam requirements. By utilizing woody biomass feedstocks, the university expected to avoid the annual consumption of 657,000 gallons of No. 6 fuel oil and save more than $1 million in yearly heating costs.  Magida explained oil supply disruptions and oil market uncertainties were some of the key drivers in beginning the project. “It’s not a healthy position to be in to be able to burn only one fuel source,” he said. He added the university looked at that situation as a problem that needed to be solved after biomass technology and costs improved over time. 

 “The biomass plant evidences Norwich University’s desire to increase usage of renewable energy for the benefit of our environment, our economy and our long-term energy security,” said Richard Schneider, president of Norwich University. “This investment is good business and it is good sense.”

“We think this is a tremendously attractive project,” Magida said. “I think it’s financially responsible. It’s environmentally responsible, and we’re being a good, responsible corporate citizen by doing this.”