Apartments now heat with wood

Chip Straub from Vermont Renewable Fuels attaches a hose from a wood pellet delivery truck outside River Station Apartments on Thursday. The Down Street Housing and Community Develpment property in Montpelier recently had a new wood pellet boiler installed to heat the building. JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR / STAFF PHOTO

MONTPELIER — River Station Apartments in Montpelier is the latest in a string of affordable housing developments to switch to a wood pellet boiler system to lower heating costs and protect the environment.

Other affordable housing developments in central Vermont that have already been outfitted with wood heat include Downstreet Housing and Development in Barre, South Main Street Apartments in Waterbury, and Colonial Village in Bradford.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday, Eileen Peltier, executive director of Downstreet Housing, said sustainable wood energy technology is an important ingredient in the development of affordable housing. Peltier predicted the River Station Apartments wood pellet plant will cut fuel costs by 40 percent and reduce its fossil fuel emissions by 90 percent. The apartment complex on Barre Street will continue to use a backup oil furnace to meet all of its heating needs in the coldest weather because the wood pellet system was sized to meet an annual load, not peak demand, as a cost-saving measure, officials said.

“We’re here today to celebrate the completion of this important project that both addresses the long-term viability of affordable housing and moves us away from nonrenewable sources of energy,” Peltier said.

Peltier said Downstreet Housing is committed to reducing energy costs by becoming a leader in sustainable energy practices in housing projects.

“River Station Apartments is one of those projects,” Peltier said. “Investing in renewable energy systems like the pellet boiler here ensures long-term viability of our properties by improving our efficiency, keeping energy costs at bay and contributing to local and state energy goals.”

Peltier noted that Downstreet joined NeighborWorks, a community green energy program, in 2015 to promote sustainable design, embrace the use of green cleaning products in its properties, and offer low-interest loans to homeowners for solar hot water conversion projects. Sixty-seven percent of 48 Downstreet buildings have solar hot water systems, she said, and seven have renewable energy heating systems.

“Downstreet is truly all in when it comes to practicing our commitment to a healthy planet,” Peltier said.

Steve Comolli, Downstreet’s assistant director of facilities, said the greatest risk to affordable housing programs is volatile fuel costs.

“Looking at renewable energy options like wood pellet systems just makes sense,” Comolli said.

Comolli noted the River Station Apartments project was a collaboration of many partners. They included Renewable Energy Vermont and the Vermont Clean Energy Development Fund. Others included Commons Energy in Burlington, which oversaw the River Station installation and provided loan funding for the project, which cost just over $100,000. Sunwood Biomass, of Waitsfield, is the fuel supplier for the apartments and manager of the wood-pellet vacuum-driven delivery system. The Montpelier Energy Advisory Committee and the city of Montpelier were also supporting partners.

“We need more projects just like this one,” said Ansley Bloomer, of Renewable Energy Vermont.

Andrew Perchlik, director of the Clean Energy Development Fund, said the fund “decided strategically” five years ago to focus on wood heat energy in Vermont.

“With the money from the state, we thought this was the biggest bang for our buck of all the renewable technologies,” Perchlik said.

Perchlick said the state has done well to increase electrical energy generation through solar and wind power, but wood offers an additional renewable energy source for heating from Vermont’s forests, he added.

“The state is really on the same page of this,” Perchlick said. “We are dedicated to doing wood the right way.”

Peltier said there are about 15,000 affordable apartments across the state of Vermont that serve a critical need for individuals and families. But, she said, more needs to be done to provide affordable housing for low-income people.

stephen.mills @timesargus.com

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