Heating district: City plans trip; state starts boiler room
MONTPELIER —With the Act 250 permit secured, the $20 million construction project is under way. The state started moving forward on construction of the new boiler room this week. Now, city and state officials are looking down the road once again.
Joe Aja, project manager for the state’s side of the project, said Thursday that the contractor is preparing the site for demolition that will take place in the interior of the old boiler plant in the city next week.
In the meantime, the state is working hard to make sure that there is available parking for people coming to do business at the nearby Department of Motor Vehicles.
“We are doing alternative parking at the DMV so there will always be some spaces there,” he said, adding that the state is leasing the Carr Lot for additional parking to make up for the 40-plus parking spaces temporarily lost during the boiler plant construction.
Because of the parking issues, Aja suggested that people needing to do business at the DMW might want to take advantage of the services that are offered online rather than deal with construction in the downtown.
“There is a lot that people can do online and they don’t realize it,” he said, adding that there is going to be some parking available at the building for people needing to do business inside and that testing and vehicle identification will be ongoing at the DMV during the construction project.
Now that the state has received its Act 250 permit, it has given the two partners the opportunity to firm up a schedule for the plant. According to current estimates, the room that will supply heat through the new piping system currently being installed will be up and running sometime in November.
But converting to biomass heat won’t likely take place until February, the city said this week.
The project is designed to provide the city and state with stable prices and sustainable, wood biomass heat well into the future.
“Nobody is going to be without heat,” said Assistant City Manager Jessie Baker, adding that customers of the system just won’t be getting biomass heating right away. “We’re currently talking with the state about the delay on the state side and what that will mean for us. We’re in a good place in the conversation but we need to figure out what the delay means to the city and school buildings and our customers. The state is being a great partner in helping us figure that out.”
The city has 16 customers in 18 buildings who’ve signed on for the project, and is in negotiations with two other potential clients. At issue is how much customers will be charged for their heat in the interim before the biomass heating goes online.
“We’re meeting with every customer so that we can talk to them about their individual situations,” said Baker.
Baker along with City Manager Bill Fraser, City Finance Director Sandra Gallup, and Todd Law the head of the city’s department of public works, will be traveling to St. Paul, Minn., in mid-July for an “intensive immersion” into the ins and outs of district heat at a site of one of the country’s biggest and best-known biomass projects.
“St. Paul has the largest wood-fired combined power plant in the country,” said Baker. “They’ve been doing this for 30 years and have a longstanding proven success with this utility.”
The St. Paul connection was forged during the planning stages of the Montpelier project when local design engineers Hallam ICS brought in St. Paul-based Evergreen Consulting to give them advice.
“We have seen this as a huge benefit to the project from the beginning,” said Baker. “They were here when we were designing the system and they helped to train some of the contractors. “
Evergreen Consulting is a for-profit spinoff of the St. Paul district heat utility.
“The finance director is going to learn how to set up these kind of funds and create billing,” she said. “Todd (Law) is going to have a chance to see day to day operations one year, five and 10 years down the line. And Bill (Fraser) and I are going to work out how to fit the pieces together.”
The team will fly out on Wednesday, July 17, and return on Saturday, July 20.
The trip is expected to cost between $5,000 and $6,000, which will come from the district heat fund.
“It has always been part of the plan to do this kind of reconnaissance,” Baker said. “We aren’t paying anything other than basic travel expenses.”
Another topic up for discussion during the visit is whether or not the city should find a third party to manage the system. Baker said that the size of the Montpelier system might not be large enough to warrant having outside management, but that the city is looking at what that would look like if it did occur.
“We are definitely looking for the best deal for the taxpayers,” said Baker.
For up-to-date progress on the project residents now have two sources for information. Information about the State’s construction of the boiler plant, including drawings, and current parking info can be found at www.montpelierdistrictheatplant.weebly.com. For city information regarding the pipe installation and construction schedule visit: http://www.montpelier-vt.org
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