UPDATE: The city council supported the plan, 6-4, voting “to institute a measure that would capture more of the power McNeil Generating Station cannot use currently, through waste heat, steam and an electric boiler, and pipe it underground to large entities like the UVM Medical Center.” Yay!
There’s a proposal in Burlington to create a big district heating system on the U. Vermont campus using the city’s power plant that burns wood chips. A similar plan was proposed for Dartmouth a couple years ago but was squelched by – wait for it – environmental concerns. So Dartmouth has kept on burning fossil fuels while they talk about how to improve.
The same argument, indirectly supporting natural gas, is playing out in Vermont:
Environmental activists, including organizations like 350vt.org, the Conservation Law Foundation, Standing Trees, and STOP VT Biomass, have rallied against the plan. They argue that the project perpetuates the use of wood chips as a fuel source, chiefly obtained from logging operations in Vermont and New York forests. Concerns have been raised that this approach might hinder the pursuit of genuinely sustainable energy sources, such as wind, solar, and geothermal, by locking the city into a biomass-based system for decades to come.
On the other hand, proponents of the project emphasize that the plant meticulously sources wood chips from well-managed forests. They argue that supporting McNeil Generating Station enables these forests to regenerate over time. Additionally, the project aims to enhance the plant’s efficiency by 10 percent through innovative measures that repurpose excess heat from the stack exhaust, further mitigating its environmental impact.
This kind of perfect-is-the-enemy-of-the-good thinking drives me crazy. It kills alternative energy projects because you can dream up a better alternative, which just leaves the status quo in place while everybody wrings their hands over the climate.