MONTPELIER — The City Council voted down the district heat project Wednesday night.
The vote was 4-2, with Sarah Jarvis and Angela Timpone the dissenters.
The project was a partnership between the state and the city. The state agreed to sell the city energy from the new power plant the state is to build behind the Department of Motor Vehicles building.
The city was to build an underground pipeline to deliver the energy from the wood chip-burning plant. The pipeline would have provided heat and hot water to municipal buildings, Union Elementary School and several local businesses.
The vote on whether to continue with the project came at the request of the state, which wanted to make sure the city was committed to the project before purchasing the boilers for the plant.
Councilor Tom Golonka was not happy about not knowing the actual cost of the project, since it has not gone out to bid yet.
“Quite frankly, I don't like being forced to make a decision with estimates instead of real answers to questions in terms of bid pricing,” said Golonka. “It's irresponsible in some respects to make judgment calls in that regard when you don't have final numbers.”
With the project voted down, City Manager William Fraser said the buildings that had hoped to hook onto the pipeline would continue to use the same heating systems they had been using. Fraser said the city would work to disentangle itself from the contracts and grants that had been agreed to for the district energy project.
The project, which had been in the works since 2003, looked like it had enough support from the city to move forward as recently as March.
Former Mayor Mary Hooper and former Councilor Nancy Sherman were supporters of the project, but they were replaced by Mayor John Hollar and Councilor Thierry Guerlain in March, and since then the council had not been as supportive of the project.
Hollar said Wednesday he would have voted for the project, had he been called upon to break a tie.
The original project called for the pipeline to run to just the municipal buildings, the high school and the elementary school. Running the pipes out to the high school proved too costly, so that idea was scrapped and the city looked to non-city building owners to make up the cost.
Fraser said he received 10 commitments to use the pipeline, including the city complex, Vermont Mutual and the New England Culinary Institute. Union Mutual had committed to the pipeline, but Fraser said after a revised project cost done Friday, it told him it did not make financial sense to hook on.
Guerlain questioned whether others who committed to the project could pull out if the actual cost of the project was more than they anticipated. Fraser said if customer agreements were signed, those customers could not pull out of the project.
Timpone had a different take. She asked, “How can we ask them to commit if we haven't committed to this project?”
Also at the council meeting, Anne Watson was voted onto the City Council to replace Jarvis.
Jarvis resigned at the meeting Wednesday because she has moved out of the district she was elected to represent. Watson is a Montpelier High School science teacher.
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