Greenfield Delegation Visits 50MW Biomass Plant in Burlington, VT

FOR RELEASE   February 3, 2009


Nancy Hazard, WorldSustain & Co-chair, Greening Greenfield


Tom Murphy, Chair, Greening Greenfield Energy Committee          


Mike Fritz, former owner Rugg Lumber Co.        


Sandra Shields, Director DPW, Town of Greenfield          


Ann Hamilton, Chamber of Commerce        
413-773-5463 x1


Wendy Marsden, Greenfield District Heat ing       


Rich Chown, GGEC, F.W. Webb       


Peter Letson, GGEC, retired physics professor       


Karl Meyer, GGEC, Environmental Writer       


David Biddle, Coop Power board, Stebel Eltron        


Christine Donovan, Vermont Energy Investment Corp        


Matthew Wolfe, Madera Energy       


John Irving, Burlington Electric       



Greenfield Delegation Visits
50MW Biomass Plant in Burlington, VT

GREENFIELD,  MA  –  A delegation of 20 Greenfield, MA leaders and concerned citizens came away better educated after their fact-finding field trip to the nation’s first 50 MW (megawatt) biomass plant in Burlington, VT. John Irving, facilities manager, who has been with the plant since before it was built 25 years ago, was the tour guide. The plant runs primarily on wood chips from the forest and from area businesses that use wood.

“The plant is an extremely well-run facility,” said Mike Fritz, former owner of Greenfield’s Rugg Lumber Company. “They answered almost every question we had, and have a compelling story. We would be lucky to have a facility like that in Greenfield.”

The field trip was organized by the Greening Greenfield Energy Committee (GGEC) so that they, and others in Greenfield, could see exactly what a 50 MW biomass plant looks like. The idea for the field trip was born when Matthew Wolfe, of Madera Energy, approached Greenfield about his proposal to build a slightly smaller plant adjacent to Greenfield’s Industrial Park.  John Irving is his technical advisor.

Most recent studies, such as the Pioneer Valley Clean Energy Plan, the Massachusetts Sustainable Forest Bioenergy Initiative, and Coop Power’s Franklin County Sustainable Biomass Working Group, have identified biomass, which includes plant materials such as trees and grasses, as one of western Massachusetts’ most valuable renewable energy sources, and as such, it is of great interest to GGEC.

During the Tour, John Irving explained how the plant worked. He also talked about the source and delivery of the wood chips, the water used for cooling, the plant’s smokestack emissions, its overall efficiency, and the many tests they have to complete in order to meet Vermont’s stringent regulations on air and water quality.

“I was impressed with how small the facility was, and how clean the stack emissions were,” said Peter Letson, GGEC member and retired Greenfield Community College professor.  “I’m still exploring some details about plant efficiency etc., but from a cleanliness perspective, I’d be happy to have this plant in my back yard.” Due to strict Vermont standards, the plant collects and uses most of the ash. Overall it emits 15 tons of ash per year into the air. This is equal to the ash that approximately 80 wood stoves in people’s homes would emit each winter.

One hotly discussed issue was the size of the plant, and the fact that the “waste heat” from the plant was not being used, in spite of the fact that it has neighbors and potential customers such as the University of Vermont and downtown Burlington. “We designed the plant so that we could use the waste heat,” said John Irving, “but, to date, we have not found a buyer.”

A local group in Greenfield, called Greenfield District Heating, is proposing a smaller biomass plant that would be community-owned. It would primarily produce hot water for heating our homes. “Since they are not using the waste heat, they are throwing away over half of the energy in the wood chips, ”says Wendy Marsden, one of Greenfield District Heating’s steering committee members, and member of Coop Power’s Franklin County Sustainable Biomass Working Group. “I believe we can do a better job than this with a combined heat and power plant designed to meet our heating load. At this time in history we cannot afford to throw away energy. Our resources are too precious.”  David Biddle, Co-op Power Board Chair added, "While Co-op Power is eager to support sustainable energy business development in Greenfield, we're also eager to ensure that this development is contributing to the long-term sustainability of Greenfield and of our region.”

Matthew Wolfe of Madera Energy says that he agrees that efficient use of resources is very important. “We have designed a combined heat and power facility that will not only generate electricity but also have the capability of providing a significant amount of heat for nearby homes and businesses,” Mr. Wolfe explained. “We are actively looking to partner with businesses such as the proposed district heating system or other businesses such as greenhouses or dairy processors that produce local, sustainable agricultural products. As we search for these partners we must also focus on the existing market - electricity generation - to ensure the facility’s economic viability.  In doing so we will create jobs, add to the local tax base, and generate clean, renewable energy.”

According to Mr. Wolfe, one of the main reasons they are interested in building in Greenfield is that there is substantial land near their site for an interested customer. They hope their plant will be a magnet for sustainable development in the area in and around the I91 Industrial Park.  Given the location’s proximity to markets and their offer of renewable, competitively-priced heat and electricity, they feel confident that they will be successful in their search.

After the Tour, Christine Donovan, of Vermont Energy Investment Corporation (VEIC) hosted the group for lunch and Q&A about biomass fuel and the plant. We learned that plant size and efficient use of fuel are complex issues. “Generally, the larger the plant the more efficient it can be, although the mix of electric and heat production is also critical.” explained Christine. “Another important consideration is the availability of fuel. Typically, it is not cost effective to transport wood fuel more than 50- to 75- miles to a biomass plant.” On average, two gallons of diesel fuel are used to harvest and transport a ton of chips to the plant.

Another issue that was discussed was the water that would be used to cool the plant. "Efficient, local energy generation is key to our future," says Greenfield writer Karl Meyer, who holds a degree in environmental communications from Antioch, "We need to factor in all finite resources going forward and water is critical”

In a typical plant, over 85% of the water used to cool the plant is lost to evaporation. In Greenfield, Madera Energy is looking at the possibility of recycling treated water from the wastewater treatment plant for cooling. “The power plant would use about 25% of the water we normally discharge from the wastewater treatment plant into the Deerfield River,” said Sandy Shields, DPW director. “State regulations would control the temperature of the discharge water.” During times of low flow, it is estimated that the losses to evaporation would reduce river flow by less than 0.64%. Additionally, Ms. Shields noted that the town would receive approximately $300,000 annually from Madera Energy for water and sewer fees, which would help lower residents’ water and sewer fees..

Ann Hamilton of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce says she has worked with Matt Wolfe of Madera Energy for over two years. “I have been impressed with how thorough and methodical he is. The Mackin property next to the Industrial Park appears to be ideal for a plant like this.”

Tom Murphy, a steering committee member of the Greenfield District Heating project, said “I was really impressed. Building a biomass cogeneration plant in Greenfield is doable.” Rich Chown, a GGEC member who works for F.W. Webb added his thoughts when he said “A biomass project is great economic opportunity.  It will create good paying jobs.”

“I learned that if we use our biomass resource sustainably and wisely, we can generate both the electricity and the heat that we need and at the same time stimulate the local economy and improve our forests.” said Nancy Hazard, co-chair of Greening Greenfield. “I am eager to learn more and work with the people who are bringing these exciting ideas and opportunities to Greenfield.”

GGEC plans to partner with other groups and continue to offer Greenfield residents opportunities to learn about using our local wood resources to generate heat and electricity locally and renewably. If there is demand, they will arrange for another field trip to the Burlington facility, or to other facilities using biomass to generate heat and electricity.

The Greening Greenfield Energy Committee (GGEC) is a citizen committee founded in 2005 to use “greening” as the inspirational engine to revitalize Greenfield and build a sustainable community so that current and future generations can enjoy life in this beautiful abundant valley. In 2007 it joined forces with the Town of Greenfield to form the Greening Greenfield campaign. To find out more about Greening Greenfield, go to or call 774-5667.


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