Dartmouth College seeks developer for proposed biomass plant in Hanover

  • At the beginning of his shift, boiler operator Bruce Tuthill checks over the various systems in the Dartmouth College steam cogeneration plant, noting the temperatures and pressures of oil, air, water and steam throughout the systems in Hanover, N.H., Tuesday, April 25, 2017. Tuthill also does a visual check of the flames inside the boilers allowing to see if the fire is getting the correct amount of air, and if residue is forming. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The smoke stack of the Dartmouth College steam cogeneration plant is seen from East Wheelock Street in Hanover, N.H.Tuesday, April 25, 2017. Four boilers in the plant supply the steam heat the college campus after excess steam pressure is used to drive turbines that generate about 40 percent of the annual electricity used on campus. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer 
Published: 2/20/2019 10:04:30 AM
Modified: 2/20/2019 8:35:57 PM

HANOVER — Dartmouth College has started its search process for a private company that would design, finance, build and operate a new biomass plant and hot water heating system.

The college announced the $200 million initiative last month as part of its Dartmouth “Green Energy Project.” The plant, which would burn wood chips, would replace an oil-burning plant in downtown Hanover, and more than 100 campus buildings would have their existing steam pipes converted. 

In its request for qualifications, the college laid out what it’s looking for in a potential firm: reliable service, affordable pricing, technological flexibility, and facilitation of learning opportunities for Dartmouth students and faculty. 

For Dartmouth Vice President Josh Keniston, the key will be finding a firm that will be a partner.

“One of the big things is that this is a long-term project. We’re talking 30-plus years,” Keniston said. “We want companies that can become community partners, evolve over time and respond to different changes.”  

The selected firm would manage the biomass plant and new heating system for the next three decades. During that time, Dartmouth will pay the company for the energy it produces, similar to how a homeowner would pay for utilities, Keniston said. 

The facility construction would cost $40 million to $50 million; the hot water transmission system and distribution piping system about $40 to $65 million; the energy transfer stations $10 to $12 million; and connecting 119 buildings to the new system will cost approximately $60 to $75 million, according to the Dartmouth RFQ released today.

While the new plant and heating system are expected to be completed in 2025, the site itself is still unknown and would require town approval. 

Keniston said that the college is open to the new plant serving others in the broader community “where it makes sense.”  

“There certainly have been conversations of if it makes sense if town facilities use it,” he said. 

Hanover has a goal of 100 percent renewable energy for heating and transportation by 2050. 

Dartmouth has hired Goldman Sachs as an advisor to the project, but the terms of that agreement are confidential. 

“Goldman Sachs knows a lot of players in the industry, and they’re helping us bring together a competitive process to identify the most qualified partners,” Keniston said. 

In addition to building and managing the wood-burning plant, the selected firm would also decommission the existing oil-burning plant and replace the pipes that distribute steam in more than 110 campus buildings. 

Interested firms have until April 17th to submit their statements. Then, a selection committee made up of representatives from the Dartmouth faculty, the sustainability office, finance, and facilities will select three or four firms in June to move onto the next phase.

Those finalists will then submit detailed bids on the project by February 2020. The Dartmouth Board of Trustees has final approval of the private company and the scope of the project.  

Over the next year, the college officials will also define more specifically how they want to source the biomass and biofuel and will determine the levels of reliability and operations at the new plant.  

“Our job is to set the parameters,” Keniston said. 

The plant could be one or even two miles from the Dartmouth Green, potentially north of town on Route 10 or south on Route 120.

The RFQ didn’t say where the plant would be located but said those developers who are shortlisted would be notified of the prospective sites.

Later this spring, the college will host discussions with the Dartmouth and Hanover communities about fuel sources and other aspects about the plant. 

Daniela Vidal Allee can be reached at dallee@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.

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