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Biomass sites met with caution

  • Dartmouth officials said the proposed biomass facility in Hanover would be somewhat bigger than facilities at Norwich University (above) in Northfield, Vt., and Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vt. (Courtesy Dartmouth College)



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, May 23, 2019

HANOVER — Hanover residents on Thursday said they wanted to learn more about the three locations Dartmouth College is considering for a biomass plant to heat its campus, but several said one of the sites, on Route 120 near the Lebanon line, was their preference.

Joe Holland, who lives in a 90-year-old Colonial on Lyme Road across from a prospective site at the south end of the college-owned Hanover Country Club, said he was worried about the impact on his property’s value.

He also expressed concerns about living across from an industrial operation.

“My knee-jerk reaction is to envision a massive wood stove belching out smoke that is generated from burning up to six tractor-trailer loads per day,” Holland said.

Although Dartmouth officials have said the emissions would be relatively clean, and cited biomass plants that have been incorporated at such campuses as Middlebury College and Norwich University, residents near Occom Pond, one of the town’s priciest neighborhoods, are also concerned about the third proposed site, the hill above the Dewey parking lot, east of Rope Ferry Road.

Heidi Eldred, a Rope Ferry Road resident, said she preferred Dartmouth to build at the Route 120 site, the former home to Trumbull-Nelson Construction Co., since an industrial use of land near the other sites could affect neighborhoods and nature preserves.

“How does that affect a neighborhood when you have a power plant?” she said.

The proposed sites, revealed Wednesday night at a public forum, are being assessed by private companies that will submit proposals to Dartmouth to build, finance and run the wood-chip operation, which will help Dartmouth end its heavy reliance on No. 6 fuel oil and switch from steam to hot-water heat.

In less than a day since the announcement, Josh Keniston, Dartmouth’s vice president for institutional projects, said he has received around a dozen emails on the pros and cons of the three sites.

Truck traffic for deliveries is likely to double in the winter. Up to six trucks a day now bring heating oil to the plant just south of the Dartmouth Green, while about 12 trucks of woodchips or biofuels will be needed, on average, during the winter for the new plant.

Some residents pointed out that an increase in traffic along Lyme Road, aka Route 10, could conflict with efforts to encourage students to walk to Richmond Middle School.

“Every day I sit on the front porch and I watch hundreds of school kids going back and forth. Are they going to be impacted with trucks going in and out of the facility? I just don’t have enough information to say,” Holland said.

Linda Fowler, an emeritus Dartmouth professor and Pine Park commissioner, also pointed out that roundabouts placed on Route 10 were installed to reduce or calm traffic.

Additional concerns were raised on the impact on Pine Park, which has already undergone logging for diseased trees. Fowler said that until the specific location and designs are announced, it is too early to judge the physical impact of a nearby biomass plant on the forest. However, she is concerned noise pollution from the biomass plant could reach the forest, disturbing people on its trails.

Rope Ferry Road resident Bill Young said that the plant would fit well at the Route 120 site, which decades ago was a hog farm, since the area already has industrial activity and is adjacent to the Hanover Public Works building. He also added that any trucks delivering to the sites north of campus will either have to travel through Hanover or Lyme.

Keniston said that 80% of the generating capacity of the plant will be produced by biomass with the remaining 20% produced by biofuel on the coldest days. The college is also open to the town of Hanover or Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center potentially buying into the plant, he said. DHMC, which is near the proposed Route 120 site, declined to comment on Thursday.

The proposed infrastructure changes are part of a $200 million investment in biomass power and hot water heating to cut carbon emissions and transition the college toward green energy. Two-thirds of the investment will go toward the transition from the current steam distribution system to a hot water heating system while the rest will go toward the biomass power plant.

As for potential environmental pollution, Keniston said that the Dartmouth plant will have upward of 65% efficiency, which means lower emissions. Often, the primary criticism of biomass is when it is used to generate electricity, he said, which has under 25% efficiency.

“The big thing to know about the term ‘biomass’ is that it’s a very broad term. It encompases many types of plants,” Keniston said.

Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin, who is helping to spearhead a major push in Hanover toward renewable energy, said people often have misperceptions of what biomass plants are like.

“We owe it to ourselves as community residents to understand the technology and become students,” she said.

Charles Wheelan, a lecturer at Dartmouth and the former chairman of a golf course advisory committee established by the college, said a master plan is needed to determine what the campus needs are and which site makes the most sense.

Given that the master plan is slated to be finished after the plant site is chosen, Wheelan said that the Trumbull-Nelson parcel on Route 120 is the most logical since there is likely no possibility that the campus would eventually need to expand there. The Dewey lot and golf course site could be needed later for academic or administrative buildings, he said.

“This whole process isn’t like chess. It’s like a crossword puzzle. It’s hard to do without all the pieces,” Wheelan said.

Dartmouth said it expects to identify the final site by the end of the summer, and discussion in town is sure to continue.

“It’s always the case with these projects that everyone thinks renewable energy is a good idea until it’s in their backyard,” Fowler said.

Amanda Zhou can be reached at azhou@vnews.com.