Primary Source: Dartmouth Officials Discuss Proposed Biomass Plant

  • John P. Gregg. Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/6/2019 10:15:47 PM
Modified: 2/7/2019 9:56:09 AM

Dartmouth College officials enjoyed a friendly reception this week in an informal discussion with the Hanover Planning Board about the college’s proposed shift to a $200 million wood-chip power plant to heat campus with hot water.

But the meeting on Tuesday evening didn’t shed light on what everyone wants to know — what sites are actually under consideration for the new facility, which would replace an oil-burning heating plant in the heart of Hanover that sends steam heat to Dartmouth buildings.

Among the key details that were revealed is that the plant could be one or even two miles from the Dartmouth Green and still deliver hot water efficiently to some 5 million square feet of space. Though they didn’t say so, that means that sites north of town on Route 10 up to the college’s Rivercrest property, or south on Route 120 toward the Lebanon line, could conceivably be in play.

Dartmouth currently relies on as many as six tractor-trailers a day to deliver its No. 6 fuel oil to town. The biomass plant, on the coldest days of the year, could require as many as 11 or 12 tractor-trailers carrying wood chips. Dartmouth also said it plans to get all of its wood chips from within a 90-minute drive of Hanover.

And two-thirds of the total cost — Dartmouth hopes to contract with a private firm to design, build and operate the system — may involve upgrading infrastructure throughout campus.

“It means changing the distribution lines that run underground across campus. It means going into almost all of our 120 buildings and redoing the piping that is within those buildings to basically switch them from steam to hot water,” Josh Keniston, a Dartmouth vice president who was one of the presenters, told the Planning Board, according to an audio recording of the meeting.

Keniston on Wednesday said the impact on traffic will be among the parameters considered in selecting a site, which will have to be larger than the current downtown 1-acre power plant site to accomodate storage of the wood chips.

“No decisions have been made at this point to include or exclude specific sites,” Keniston said.

Dartmouth officials referred briefly to a biomass plant at Middlebury College, which is located just south of its main quad, in their presentation. Middlebury Associate Vice President for Operations Norm Cushman said Wednesday that plant is 10 years old, heats 2.2 million square feet of space, and relies on a “baghouse filter system” to contain emissions. “There is no issue with nearby private homes,” he said.

Hanover officials, who have set sustainable energy goals as well, seemed to embrace the concept. Planning Board Chair Judith Esmay said the eventual tearing down of the 175-foot brick smokestack at the oil-burning plant could turn into a “community event.”

And at the end of the meeting, she said, “We’ll be watching this very carefully. I hope you hear us cheering you on on this 30-year plan.”

State of the Union

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., was, needless to say, less than enthusiastic when President Donald Trump said “that America will never be a socialist country” and that “we are born free, and we will stay free” during his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night.

Sanders, in his response, asserted, “People are not truly free when they can’t afford healthcare. People are not truly free when they cannot afford to pay for their prescription drugs … People are not truly free when they cannot feed their families.”

U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., was one of the more enthusiastic lawmakers, dressed in white to honor suffragists, in reacting as Democrats cheered Trump’s inadvertent homage to gains by female candidates in the November elections. She stood up and pumped her hands in a “raise the roof” gesture.

RFK remembered

Gov. Chris Sununu, R-N.H., used to run the Waterville Valley Resort, but he was there over the weekend on a bipartisan note. More than 100 members of the Kennedy family were in town for a 50th anniversary commemoration of a ski trail — Bobby’s Run — named for U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy after his 1968 assassination. RFK was friends with the late Tom Corcoran, the Olympic skier who founded Waterville Valley, where Kennedy skied.

The winter after his slaying, according to the Associated Press, Ethel Kennedy brought her family to the resort to ski, and wore black clothing on the slopes as she was still in mourning.

Among the Kennedy family who attended last weekend’s festivities were four of RFK’s children: Chris Kennedy, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Kerry Kennedy and Douglas Kennedy.

“The older part of the family wanted to show the folks who didn’t really grow up in Waterville why it was so important to them,” said ski resort spokesman Matt Hesser, who noted that many of the Kennedys are aggressive skiers.

“They have a good time on the hill, for sure,” he said.

Briefly noted

■Sununu departed on Wednesday for the United Arab Emirates with Dean Kamen, the New Hampshire inventor of the Segway, to promote science and technology education.

■The Orange County Democratic Committee is hosting a legislative breakfast with Vermont lawmakers on Monday, Feb. 18, at 7:30 a.m. at the Vermont Technical College campus in Randolph Center. Members of the public can meet with lawmakers there.

John P. Gregg can be reached at

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